Xerox and On Demand Books Collaborate on Espresso Book Machine

Jim Hamilton
Jan 14, 2010

You probably saw the news today that On Demand Books (http://www.ondemandbooks.com/), maker of the Espresso Book Machine has teamed up with Xerox on an on-demand book kiosk. The Espresso Book Machine (sometimes referred to as EBM) has been around for four or five years, but really in more of a beta state according to On Demand Books CEO Dane Neller. With this announcement, On Demand Books will sell the Espresso Book Machine connected to the print engine component of the 110-ppm Xerox 4112 monochrome copier/printer. The 4112 is used to print the monochrome book blocks while an internal color inkjet printer does the covers. The Espresso Book Machine can print and perfect bind books as small as 4.5” x 5.0” and as large as 8.25” x 10.5” (and any variation in between). The book block is printed on 8.5” x 11” sheets and is then united with the cover, perfect bound, and trimmed. The price for the Espresso Book Machine, including the 4112, the finishing capability, and related software is around $125,000.

Xerox 4112 in an Espresso Book Machine

Xerox 4112 in an Espresso Book Machine

I admit to being a bit of a skeptic about book kiosks, particularly if the main application is seen as printing mass market books that don’t happen to be in the store. What I find interesting about the product’s rollout is that much of the actual printing activity appears to be for self-published books. For example, Neller noted that a university in Canada with an Espresso printed 12,000 books in a year — all self publishing. He said that the largest category of volume printed today is self-published work followed by printing of public domain titles (that are available through a relationship that On Demand Books has with Google). Ultimately he expects that out-of-print back list and maybe someday front list mass market books will drive some volume, but for now that’s not the case.

The business model for this needs to make sense. A site doing 10,000 books a year (about 30 books a day) would have to net more than $4 per book over three years just to account for the cost of the machine (not including paper or consumables).

With the addition of Xerox, On Demand Books has an impressive list of partners including Google, Lightning Source, and Author Solutions. The partnership with Author Solutions is for a self-publishing solution called SelfEspress. On Demand Books has also created something called EspressNet, which serves as a catalog of content, an encryption method, and transaction reporting tool.

If you want to see Espresso in action, try watching the following YouTube videos:

They are initially mesmerizing and then it’s like watching paint dry. As a person who is used to production printing I just wanted it to go quicker. It takes three minutes to make one book. I can imagine the scene at Muller Martini. A bunch of grizzled R&D people are watching the video and shouting “We can easily bind 60 books in a minute and these guys are YouTube darlings for printing a single book in three minutes!”

But I suppose that misses the point. The reason this announcement is interesting is because it represents a different paradigm. What’s the value in printing a lot of books for distribution through a wasteful brick & mortar channel? Why not just print the books that are needed? Existing print-on-demand production methods do that quite well, but not at the point of need. The Espresso Book Machine challenges the existing publishing distribution model by bringing an output solution to the point of need. That could be just what book buyers want in today’s quick turnaround world.

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