Friday, December 11, 2009

EBM: How Do I Geek Out Over Thee?

Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park has a new Espresso Book Machine and it is up and running! Haven't heard of the EBM? What, have you been living under a rock? Are you a savage?

Essentially, it's a print-on-demand machine that bookstores can purchase in order to gain access to over 800,000 titles that can be searched for and printed in-store while the customer waits. It's a nice alternative to online ordering in that it gives you the option of supporting your local bookstore and you get instant gratification. That is, if the title is available for printing.

There are still some kinks surrounding copyright and digital availability, of course. For example, when I tried to order two sci-fi books by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, this is the answer I got:

Hi Trina,

After doing some research here's what I have:The Strugatsky books are nebulous-- There are versions available as pdf downloads or txt files, but I can't seem to figure out wha the exact copyright status is on them. I'm not really trusting any .ru sites since they are notorious for book piracy. I'll see if I can get an answer on these in the next week or two. IF they are available, then we'd offer a service where we'd take the pdf or txt file and work it into an actual book-- these would cost more since they are essentially a special order; nothing prohibitive, but probably in the order of 15 - 20 dollars for the process (including the book, of course).

So much for instant gratification. Still, I've been searching for these titles for months at local used bookstores to no avail. The University where I work even offered a class on Russian sci fi that included the books on its syllabus; however, when I visited the U Bookstore to try and pilfer student copies, there were none available. Copies available from bookstores online run anywhere from $13.90 (before shipping) to $59. It can't hurt to wait and see.

On the bright side, Vladimir the EBM guru was able to find and print Susannah Strickland Moodie's delightfully named Roughing it in the Bush: Or Life in Canada for the relatively low price of $15.95. It's waiting for me at customer service as I write this.

I'm not saying that the EBM will revolutionize publishing or save the industry or anything. Some might say that the EBM is just a glorified copy machine. Having worked with some pretty phat copy machines in my day as well as in a press room, I'm still impressed by the notion of a self contained machine that is this small and can MAKE A BOOK from start to finish in under 30 minutes. I want one of these in my living room.

And no, I can't really explain why I'm so enamored with the EBM while Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader leave me cold. I'm not opposed to either of the latter, per se. I'm not afraid of shiny things. I quite like shiny things, especially when they give me almost unlimited access to all the texts I could ever want to read. Maybe I'm just disappointed at the limitations of these digital readers when I know they could do so much more. If I'm going to go digital, I want the full hypertext experience. I want to be able to look things up on the Internet as I read and come across information that needs to be explored further. I want digital books that are hyperlinked to their references and that have notes linking to other books or websites or images or whatever. Otherwise, print will do just fine.

The true test, of course, will be the object itself. I'll be picking it up tonight after work. Pictures will be posted. Further analysis to come.

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