The Machine in the Library, the Machine in the Bookstore: On Book Machines

Jake Adam York
November 19, 2012
Comments 3

This past week, NPR ran a story on the “Biblio-Mat,” which is exactly what it sounds like, a book dispensing machine.

Reports NPR:

Earlier this year, Stephen Fowler, owner of The Monkey’s Paw used-book store in Toronto, had an idea.

He wanted a creative way to offload his more ill-favored books — “old and unusual” all, as the store’s motto goes — that went further than a $1 bin by the register.

It came in a conversation with his wife: a vending machine.

“Originally, I thought maybe we would just have a refrigerator box and paint it to look like a vending machine,” he tells NPR, “and put a skinny assistant of mine inside and have him drop books out when people put a coin in.”

But then he was hanging out with a friend, Craig Small, who runs an animation studio in Toronto.

“I mentioned the idea to him, and he said, ‘Forget it! Let’s just build one!’ “

The NPR web story includes a video of the machine:

A remarkable idea that reminds me of a very small book two close friends brought me back from Argentina, a pocket-sized—or more accurately cigarette-pack sized edition of Emerson (in Spanish)—that came out of an old cigarette vending machine. (Sadly, so small, I can’t find it to show you right now.) You found yourself in a bus station without anything to read, but you had a few coins…

Does anybody remember the Gumball Poetry Machine? Were these the ways the mechanical age began to imagine the Kindle store?

Of course, even more like the Kindle store, and perhaps even better, is On Demand Books’ Espresso Book Machine, which allows users to select a title and then print a copy of it (“library quality” they say) in a few minutes using an automated machine about the size of an ice-cream freezer.

Check out their videos of the first- and second-generation Espresso Book Makers:

I, for one, hope this catches on, so that on the next long airline jaunt, I can have backup when it’s time to stow the electronic devices.


3 thoughts on “The Machine in the Library, the Machine in the Bookstore: On Book Machines

  1. Sadly, I’m not surprised that Tattered Cover didn’t have the foresight to make this work, though I wish it were different. You should never pay more than $30-$40 per ISBN, but that means buying them in bulk, which is what I imagine Amazon is doing.

    Right now, it doesn’t seem that this is a great system to replace more traditional publishing, but I think it has a future.

    • I think it does, too, but a) the quality has to go up, b) the pricing has to go down, and c) if they made the paper twist and turn around in the machine, it would be more fun to watch… ;-)

  2. My publishing company tested our first book on the Espresso Book Machine and on Amazon CreateSpace. With EBM, the cover price would have been double, with less than half the royalty. We also would have had to buy another ISBN/barcode at $125 (now reduced to $55), when Amazon gave it to us for free. The EBM had setup fees (set by the store, not the company); Amazon didn’t. Amazon’s price per book if we ordered for our own sales was about a third. Finally, the quality of the Amazon product was beautiful (bookstore, not library, quality), and the EBM looked like it was printed on a laser printer. Ultimately, we had to go with Amazon. None of us liked it, but competition in the marketplace is competition.

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