Saturday, May 30, 2009

Publishing Makes A Slow Turn

The instant book is finally here. National Public Radio (NPR) online has an interesting feature about the Blackwell Bookshop at 100 Charing Cross Road in London, which has installed an Espresso book machine.

Floor manager Marcus Gipps says the printer runs at about 100 pages a minute. The machine then sticks and binds the pages together itself, and out comes a book -- a real book, just like all the other books on Blackwell's shelves.

Gipps says the store already has a half-million titles saved digitally on the Espresso, ready to print -- that's five times the number on the shop floor -- and within three months, it should have more than a million available.

You can read the article at

In April, Lightning Source launched an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) pilot program with On Demand Books. An excerpt from their press release:

Participating publishers in the pilot include John Wiley & Sons, Hachette Book Group, McGraw-Hill, Simon & Schuster, Clements Publishing, Cosimo, E-Reads, Bibliolife, Information Age Publishing, Macmillan, University of California Press and W.W. Norton.

The pilot, being offered initially to a small group of publishers that currently work with Lightning Source, will enable these publishers to enhance the availability of their titles at point-of-sale EBM locations. Approximately 85,000 titles from these publishers will be available for purchase at EBM locations in the USA in May 2009.

Upon the completion of a successful pilot, publishers that print and distribute books with Lightning Source will have the option to participate in the EBM channel. Complete channel automation is expected in the first half of this year, and rollout of the program to publishers globally is expected to follow shortly thereafter.
End Quote

For those not familiar with Lightning Source, here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

Lightning Source is a subsidiary of
Ingram Industries Inc., and a sister company to leading U.S. book wholesaler Ingram Book Group. They are the leading printer and distributor of print on demand books. Lightning Source has printed over 60,000,000 books for over 6,500 publishers around the world. The Lightning Source digital library holds over 600,000 books.

Lightning Source gives the publishing community options to print books in any quantity, 1-10,000, and provides its customers access to the most comprehensive bookselling channel in the industry in both the United States and the United Kingdom
End Quote.

Apparently Lightning Source considers the pilot program to be a success. Small publishers working with them are now signing up for the program. I have a copy of the users manual and here are a couple of interesting facts: Manufacture time for a single book is approximately six (6) minutes … The direct consumables required are toner, ink, paper, cover stock and glue. The cost of consumables is approximately $.01 per page.

That’s a penny a page, folks, and a book by the time you take a couple of sips of coffee. It has been a long time coming.

On Demand Books is the work of Jason Epstein, a visionary who was editorial director of Random House for years. He created Anchor Books, which established the trade paperback format, and was co-founder of The New York Review of Books. Some ten years ago he saw a POD machine being developed by an engineer in St. Louis, and he’s been pushing it ever since.

Epstein recently gave the keynote address at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. His opening statement:

“I don't have to tell anyone here that we are at the end of the Gutenberg era; at the threshold not only of a new way of publishing books but of a cultural revolution of magnitude greater than Gutenberg's, assuming we survive our financial calamity, our 20,000 nuclear weapons, and our melting ice cap, all of them, by the way, unintended consequences of the western civilization that Gutenberg's technology made possible.”

Truth be told, his speech is almost scary. Judging by the comments, some people take exception to a few of his statements. You can read the full text of the speech at

Meantime, some of the Espresso machines are up and running at these locations:

Internet Archive, The Presidio, San Francisco, California;
New Orleans Public Library, New Orleans, Lousiana;
University of Michigan Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan;
Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vermont;
Brigham Young University Bookstore (coming spring 2009), Provo, Utah;
The InfoShop, The World Bank (exhibition 2006), Washington, D.C.;
New York Public Library, SIBL (exhibition 2007), New York, New York;
The University of Alberta Bookstore, Edmonton, Alberta;
McMaster Innovation Press / Titles On Demand, McMaster University Bookstore, Hamilton, Ontario;
McGill University Library (coming spring 2009), Montreal, Quebec;
University of Waterloo Bookstore, Waterloo, Ontario;
Angus & Robertson Bookstore, Melbourne, Australia;
NewsStand UK 88 to 84 London Business Park, Roding Road, London;
Blackwell Bookshop, 100 Charing Cross Road, London;
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, El Shatby, Alexandria. Egypt

So … if you’re going to be traveling this fall, find a bookstore and stop in for a latte and a copy of ABSINTHE OF MALICE, okay?


Helen Ginger said...

No store near me, but I do on the rare occasion go to San Fran and DC, so I'll keep your handy-dandy list and look for a store when I go. Would love to watch a machine in action! Thanks.

Straight From Hel

Anonymous said...

I had just read about this- absolutely amazing. And I can't wait to try one.
Thanks for the information.

Chester Campbell said...

Night Shadows Press is signing up so The Surest Poison and The Marathon Murders will be available through the Espresso machine. I'd like to see one in action. I should go down to Lavergne (Lightning Source headquarters just south of Nashville) and take a look.

Vivian Zabel said...

4RV Publishing is signing up, too. All our paperback b/w interior books will be available.

Jean Henry Mead said...

The technology has been available for some time and a few small presses have purchased their own primitive versions of the machines five or six years ago. I'm happy to see that it's finally available to the general public.

Anonymous said...


As I said about Jason Epstein in my blog:

"Some ten years ago he saw a POD machine being developed by an engineer in St. Louis, and he’s been pushing it ever since."

I read about it then and have been bird-dogging it ever since because my book has always been POD.

People have been talking about it for years.Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press brought it up at a conference in Boise about 2003.

So it's not new, but has been brought up to date.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I know you did, Pat, and it's a good, informative article. I wonder when the large writers organizations are going to lift their ban on POD books considered for awards. There are some excellent books produced by POD pubishers that are as good or better than those produced by major publishing houses.

Anonymous said...


Addresses for Espresso locations are at
but for San Fran and D.C. they are:

Internet Archive
116 Sheridan Ave.
The Presidio of SF
San Francisco, CA

The Info Shop
The World Bank
701 - 18th St. N.W.
Washington, DC

The World Bank installed a machine in 2006 and invited high school students to watch it in action. The video was fascinating, but as the guy at Blackwell Books said, it just looks like a big old copy machine.


Vivian Zabel said...

Shhh ... don't tell anyone, but the big boys are using POD technology, too, maybe not all the time, but they use it.

Plus many of their books will be printed through the Espresso Machines.

Anonymous said...


If Lightning Source lets you watch, maybe they'll let you take pictures.


Anonymous said...


The dinosaurs of the book world will come around or be left behind. It was ever thus! Old habits die hard.

Organizations that won't accept POD will be left to their belly button gazing.


Anonymous said...


Good for you. As usual, it's the small and regional presses who are willing to try something new.

And as you said, the big boys are giving it shot, too.


Ben Small said...

I saw one on some news program some months ago. Looked fascinating. I'm very glad to see this. Thanks, Pat. Yes, the big boys are using it, too. Many of them are putting their backlists with Lightning Source.

elysabeth said...

I'd like to see one in action too - just to see a book print out in no time would be fascinating in and of itself. Unfortunately I don't travel yet and none are close to me - probably DC would be the closest (about 9 or 10 hours from me but that is too far to travel just to see a machine, especially since I don't have a reason to travel to the area yet - lol).

Thanks for posting this article Pat. Hope your books do well and that more and more publishers jump on board. - See you all in the postings - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad (JGDS), 50-state, mystery, trivia series

STATE OF WILDERNESS, Book 1 of 50 now available.
STATE OF QUARRIES, book 2 of 50 now available
STATE OF RESERVATIONS, book 3 of 50 coming 2009

WHERE WILL THE ADVENTURE TAKE YOU NEXT? (series newsletter forum)

Rob Walker said...

Excellent info every author needs to know, Pat. You've been a visionary too on this subject. Krill Press, your Absinthe of Malice, and many more are at the forefront. Years ago when I was on the board of directors as a consultant to Love is Murder, we made a deicsion then -- what 10 years ago -- that we would not exclude POD or other alternative forms of publication, and Love is Murder has always been an open conference welcoming all the innovative publishers and authors working with Lightning Source and other venues out side the "mainstream" at the time. This was the philosophy of those who put LIM together and so many other writers orgs and conferences did exactly the opposite.

Again great article and very informative. I know my writer wife, Miranda, also now and Expresso Book author will want to read this so I am sending her the link with the proviso to READ Pat's posting.

Kent Lucas said...

Great job, Pat! Blog pieces like this are when the former newspaper reporter in you really shines through. I thought you might like to know that I am writing this Sunday morning, having just returned to Oregon last night, and am at this moment putting the finishing touches on the contract with Lightning Source to have all Krill titles made available through the Espresso publishing channel. It will go out in tomorrow morning's mail

Kaye Barley said...

Fascinating! As a reader who wants a "real" book in my hands, this is the sort of thing I'm applauding. And I can't wait to see one in action!