Originally published as a guest post over at The Bookshelf Muse on Nov. 12.
In May, an Espresso Book Machine arrived at Powell’s Books here in Portland, Oregon. The machine can turn out a freshly printed book in four minutes—about the same time it takes to make the perfect cappuccino. It’s encased in glass, so you can watch every step of the process, including the printing of the cover and the application of glue to the spine. At the end, a book, created just for you, slides down the chute, professionally bound, indistinguishable from other paperback books and literally hot off the press.
Talk about instant gratification. Especially when the book is your book.
I’ve been a professional writer and editor for years, but this technology inspired me to launch my own publishing company, Forest Avenue Press. In October, we released our first title, Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life, a collection of interviews and flash essays by forty-two authors.
There are more than eighty Espresso Book Machines around the world, and I’ve read that there will be 120 by the end of 2012. Using the EBM as my printer and primary distributor means that someone in Washington, D.C., can walk into Politics and Prose and get a copy of Brave on the Page made to order, avoiding the economic and environmental costs of shipping. My friend Jess in upstate New York can take a lovely fall drive to the Northshire in Manchester, Vermont, and have my book printed exactly as I have specified—sturdy cream-colored pages inside with a lovely matte cover.
When my book was released, a New York City blogger tracked down his local Espresso Book Machine, had a copy of Brave on the Page printed, and then wrote a post responding to his favorite essays. And that—right there—is why I’ll keep using this technology as I grow my business. It allows me to get my authors’ books into the hands of readers in a much more personal, and satisfying, way.
Even better, Espresso Book Machines are installed in places I want to support—independent bookstores, libraries and universities. I love supporting local businesses, and it makes me feel good to know that readers who want a Forest Avenue Press title will support their local bookstore or library. And if there isn’t an Espresso machine nearby, they can order a copy of the book online from the Tattered Cover in Denver, the Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada or one of the other six locations that offer shipping services.
There is, admittedly, a higher cost to some of the Espresso Book Machine services, depending on what publishing package you choose and what your resulting per-book cost is. With the EBM, you’re buying access to that amazing distribution network, helping readers avoid shipping costs and benefitting from dealing with a local staff. As an author and/or publisher, having access to real people during the book-making process is invaluable. The Powell’s staff answered so many questions for me that I thanked them in the acknowledgements.
I decided to price my 200-page book at $14, which has given me enough wiggle room to consign copies to local bookstores at their standard rates, while staying in line with the prices of other writing craft books. I’m not really going after those consigned spots, because my book is already available at eighty locations thanks to the EBM (and I get full royalties from those sales instead of having to pay a consignment percentage). Brave on the Page is also prominently displayed at the Powell’s Books Espresso kiosk upstairs in the purple room. I haven’t yet asked how it might work to have copies on the shelf in the writing section at Powell’s—whether I’d be under a normal consignment contract or a special one since my book is being printed in-house. Since the machine was installed at Powell’s in May, there are a lot of new scenarios like that one, and I love being the one asking the questions.
As with any printing technology, sometimes there are glitches. The New York blogger I mentioned went to two bookstores looking for Brave on the Page on a Sunday. The first store was open, but the Espresso Book Machine wasn’t staffed, and the machine at the second store was having a glue crisis. If the staff is filling a large book order, or if there are other book-buyers in the queue before you, you might have to wait or even come back later. Sometimes a machine—like any printer—needs servicing. So if you want to buy a book, it might be good to call ahead to check the EBM hours, not just the bookstore’s hours, and to make sure everything’s up and running.
Getting a paperback will never be as fast or convenient as having an e-book delivered to your Kindle or iPad. But if you love holding books, smelling their ink and lovingly turning their pages, and if you want to support independent bookstores and libraries, and if you want to feel connected to the printing process, I definitely recommend the Espresso Book Machine. You can learn more details at ondemandbooks.com.
Laura Stanfill is the founder of Forest Avenue Press and the editor of Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life. She’s an award-winning journalist, a novelist, a freelance manuscript editor, a knitter and a Vassar College graduate.