HANDS ON: Espresso Book Machine

The first Espresso Book Machine in Alabama, is now open for business. It’s located inside the Brookwood Mall Books-A-Million store. The BAM crew did a good job with the launch, food, speeches and demos…. but let’s get to the good stuff and talk books!

The EBM is on the first floor by the front door.
The EBM is on the first floor by the front door.

For those that are not familiar with the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), it is a essentially a book-making machine. You can bring in (or download) a PDF or photos and it will print you a paperback book. The operator loads up the files and the color printer does a color cover, the printer then prints on archival quality paper, folds everything together, glues the cover on and trims it. I watched four demo books being printed last night and they averaged 8 minutes for a 150-page finished book.

With the covers off you can see the guts working. This part is powered by a Mac-mini, the ordering, barcodes, etc. is all on a Windows machine.
With the covers off you can see the guts working. This part is powered by a Mac-mini, the ordering, barcodes, etc. is all on a Windows machine.
The books slide out the bottom one at a time.
The books slide out the bottom one at a time.

The Espresso Book Machine can handle books 50-600 pages and sizes anywhere between 5″x5″ and 8″x10″.

The neat thing about the EBM is not the “hey, go print your own book or create a scrapbook for grandma”. Though that is certainly the emphasis of their marketing efforts now. The neat part is that you can legally have them print and bind any public domain work for you. They have ondemandbooks.com which supposedly ties-in to thousands of public domain works, but their search capability is horribly frustrating. You pretty much have to know the exact title you are looking for. So I recommend starting at Project Gutenberg or somewhere similar. Side note: Be aware that some publishers have made even their copyrighted materials available via the EBM, but much of that has geographic restrictions. The rep last night said that there are books he is allowed to print in Birmingham, but not in other parts of the country and vice-versa (hey Washington, time to update some copyright laws?). Anyway, I recommend going in and letting them search for  current titles you’d want to buy.

As an example, after doing some research I think that a book called Scrope, from 1874, may very well technically be the first biblio-mystery. Thanks to the kind souls at Project Gutenberg and folks on Google I have a PDF copy of that book that probably no one else cares about. But now I could go and get a physical copy of this book to put on my bookshelf next to all my other biblio-mysteries.

The paper quality is good. You won’t be disappointed. Of course, when it comes to interior half-tones and images, it’s as decent as any quality office printer. So no surprises there. It’s not as good as a traditionally printed book, but no one is expecting it to be.

Paper quality is really good, both in feel and ink retention.
Paper quality is really good, both in feel and ink retention.
Images and half-tones are only as good as the source, but the EBM doesn't enhance much.
Images and half-tones are only as good as the source, but the EBM doesn’t enhance much.

 

The glued spine was amazingly tight for having almost zero drying time.
The glued spine was amazingly tight for having almost zero drying time.

 

Being PDF-based, they have no problem printing in other languages as well.
Being PDF-based, they have no problem printing in other languages as well.

The book covers are made of a heavier and better (what I call) “photo paper”. Nothing is overtly fuzzy, but it’s not the laser precision detail of a web press. You can see the sheen in this book jacket:

 

The cover material is slick and what you'd expect from a "color printer".
The cover material is slick and what you’d expect from a “color printer”.

You can also tell that they EBM suffers from the same font issues all printers and book people do, like in this barcode. But with speed in mind, they just don’t have the QA steps that most presses do. So make sure you check your book before you leave the store!

Oops! Fonts are a thorn for every book designer. No different here with it swapping out and crashing into bars.
Oops! Fonts are a thorn for every book designer. No different here with it swapping out and crashing into bars.

Last night they got their first paying customer as well.  A guy used their system to look up and buy a copy of James Froude’s 1888 Victorian-era travelogue The English in the West Indies. The 208-page book set him back $18.53. Unfortunately, this guy also gave them their first big paper jam! This was cleared up much in the same way you clear out the copier at work.

Checking all the nooks and crannies for the paper jam.
Checking all the nooks and crannies for the paper jam.

 

I never got to see the finished product though as 25 minutes into it they were having to hand-collate the pages to make sure they didn’t miss any during the snafus. I’m sure he got his book though.

Seems there will always be a need for a pressman to check the production... especially when there's a paper jam.
Seems there will always be a need for a pressman to check the production… especially when there’s a paper jam.

 

I’m anxious to give the Espresso Book Machine a try. It’s all about finding that book that you want that no one else does. That lost work that no publisher can justify printing. That’s when it’ll be fun. I just need to find the right book.