Sunday, 28 April 2019

Espresso book machines revisited

A long time ago, over ten years ago in fact, I became quite excited about the espresso book machine.

At the time it seemed to offer the promise of small run book publishers, such as your typical small university press, the opportunity to avoid the costs of printing and holding stock, as well as the potential to on demand reprints of out of print books.

Well, ten years on, the landscape hasn't quite changed as I imagined it. Yes, there are various printers, mostly in India, who will do a cheap reprint of an out of print nineteenth century book, by printing a copy of a scanned edition downloaded from the internet archive, something for which you basically need a laptop, an internet connection, and a laser printer, and access to the equipment required to bind a book, which in a low cost country such as India, where labour is cheap and there is a well established book printing industry, it's probably cost effective to have a semi manual process.

But recently I've bought a couple of scholarly short run Australian books. Even though they were ordered through Amazon Australia's marketplace, due to the mysteries of the book trade, they came from online booksellers in the UK, and they had the look and feel of a print on demand book.

Strangely the front matter that contains the copyright statement and the NLA cataloguing in publication data, didn't list a printer, but at the back of the book there was a QR code and the text Lightning Source Milton Keynes, followed by what was obviously a reference number of some kind.

Being curious I turned to Google to discover that Lightning Source have a pretty informative wikipedia page,

Basically Lightning Source is an offshoot of the same company that developed the espresso machine and provides a print on demand service to small publishing houses - just as I thought would happen all these years ago - and what's more the espresso book machine is most decidedly not dead ...

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