Monday, February 05, 2007

Freedom of the Press

I want this thing they talk about in this article. I’m not crazy about the name, since an invention this timelessly cool does not need a gimmicky Starbucks-era moniker, but otherwise I’m enthralled. I think this sounds really cool and possibly revolutionary if you ignore the publishing industry mumbo jumbo they’ve heaped the article with:

The company ... has begun beta testing its Espresso Book Machine, which can print black-and-white text for a 300-page paperback with a four-color cover, and bind it together in three minutes. "Our goal is to preserve the economic and ergonomic simplicity of the physical book," said Epstein, who laments the disappearance of backlist and ready access to books in other languages. By printing from digital files, ODB hopes to make warehousing—and much of today's distribution model—obsolete. "In theory," said Epstein, "every book printed will be digitized, which means the market will be radically decentralized. A bookstore with this technology, without any expense to themselves [other than the machine] can increase their footprint." Of course, that also means that Kinko's or Wal-Mart can transform themselves into mini-bookstores, especially given the machine's affordability. Neller anticipates that it will retail for less than $100,000.

If I had an extra hundred grand handy I’d totally get one. I am picturing mainly using this thing to print out public domain and out-of-print books of the sort that you can find scanned in or in text files all over the internet, for example one of my favorites, Streitberg’s Gotisches Elementarbuch. I had to search all over Munich for that sort of thing back in the day, and while the physical hunt for obscure academic titles was always fun, I often ended up getting it for muchos dineuros on German E-Bay. I would rather have just printed the sucker out for free or at least cheaply on this machine.

But I suppose I could also see printing out a commercial book from time to time and paying the publisher something for it, sort of like iTunes. A bound book in three minutes! That’s like those food replicator machines from Star Trek, only cooler because it’s not so obviously impossible. And it doesn’t bring up the disturbing subject of the sick things that leering slob Commander Riker would have synthesized.

Anyway, I myself have a long history of spending hours and hours trying to format and print my own public domain books while I’m supposed to be working; my triumph was a handsome bound version of Beowulf with Old English and facing translation, made by printing out the pages in a very odd way with the help of diagrams like this, and bound with dental floss. This machine just seems to be the logical next step.

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