Monday, June 08, 2009

Real Books Anytime and Anywhere

The digital era is replete with promises that never quite get fulfilled. Remember the predictions that every home would one day have a library of CD Rom discs that would provide information from how to cook a pot roast to how to fix a leaking faucet? Never happened. How about the vision of a small army robots cleaning the bathroom or cutting the lawn? Still waiting? There are some recent developments that may make the prediction of radical changes in what we read and how we read it come true. I am not referring to electronic readers like Kindle™ that I wrote about a few weeks ago. This new technology provides a much more attractive reading experience.

A New York based company, On Demand Books LLC., has been developing a system that allows books to be printed on-demand. Founded in 2003, the company has developed and patented a machine that can print and bind a single book in a matter of minutes. The machine that looks like a standard office copier, albeit a bit larger, is connected via the internet to a database of millions of titles.

While having books available on line is nothing new, the reading experience of holding a bulky viewer or, worse, trying to read long passages on a small PDA or cell phone screen has kept the numbers of users of electronic readers quite limited. Like it or not the bound paper book is indeed very efficient and comfortable.

It is estimated that there are some 23,000 locations in the US that sell books; about 6,000 are book stores. For all of these stores, and even the behemoth online provider,, one of the big issues is “inventory.” What to stock and what not to have on hand. With thousands of titles coming available each year the problem gets more and more pronounced. A dozen copies of a book on the shelf gathering dust does not money make!

This new technology allows the placement of a kiosk with the Espresso Book Machine™ almost anywhere. A customer, in the space of a few minutes, can be provided with a printed copy of just about any book. The price of the on-demand book is very close to the price of a book printed in the traditional manner.

Right now there are only about a dozen of these machines in operation. Priced at over $100,000, they are not inexpensive. The company is still negotiating with publishers and authors for rights to offer various books. Authors and publishers should like this technology as it helps them protect their copyrights.

So some day soon when you are going to the beach and are looking for a good book, your choices at the local drug store might be a lot broader.

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