The Fifteen Minute Book Machine

A cou­ple of years ago I met Jason Epstein in pass­ing and he excit­ed­ly described his new project: a machine to print On Demand Books. The plan is final­ly bear­ing fruit: the Espres­so Book Machine was demon­strat­ed at the New York Pub­lic Library on Wednes­day. Three of the machines are out in the wild, and I sus­pect many more will appear if the pro­to­types live up to the hype.

The idea of books on demand is a lit­tle eerie but emi­nent­ly effi­cient. Pub­lish­ers and book­sellers waste mil­lions of dol­lars, tons of fuel and forests of paper ship­ping, return­ing and trash­ing unsold books every year. And if a machine like this isn’t too expen­sive to run, it could rev­o­lu­tion­ize edu­ca­tion in less acces­si­ble or wealthy parts of the world. The real ques­tion is whether such a machine might do to book­stores what Net­flix has done to video rental stores. The Espres­so machine can only print paper­backs, so for now I think Barnes and Noble is safe. And even if the shelves are replaced with dig­i­tal brows­ing dis­plays one day, many cus­tomers will still want to enjoy their pur­chas­es with an over­priced lat­te and pas­try. The social spaces of book-read­ing have yet to be destroyed by or the blo­gos­phere, so I think they’ll sur­vive a new kind of espres­so machine.

What Book Changed Your Life? Par­tic­i­pate in a Group Project. Tell Us and Become Eli­gi­ble for a Prize .

Check out our col­lec­tion of free audio­books.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Although we might not be as cool and as instan­ta­neous as this machine, Book­Swim deliv­ers our book rental mem­bers their request­ed books to their home, then send them back in the mail when fin­ished. No late fees, unlim­it­ed rentals per month, and free ship­ping both ways. You can find us at

  • Scott Eblen says:

    Print-on-demand makes a lot of sense but there’s a far big­ger oppor­tu­ni­ty in sell­ing this as a ser­vice rather than a com­mod­i­ty. It’s sim­i­lar to home pho­to print­ing. You can nev­er real­ly achieve the scale to jus­ti­fy the cost of a pho­to print­er with ink and paper, but peo­ple are hap­py to send off their dig­i­tal prints and receive hard copies a few days lat­er. is one of the most ambi­tious com­pa­nies in the print on demand space. Found­ed by the same guy who found­ed Red Hat Lin­ux, their aim is to pro­vide a tech­nol­o­gy plat­form that puts authors and inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ers in con­trol of the sale and print­ing of their mate­r­i­al. They have mas­sive room-sized print­ers that can churn out sin­gle copies of hard backed books in min­utes.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.