When I saw the section of the Striphas reading (The Late Age of Print) that discussed books that could be created by individual request, I was reminded of an invention I’d seen rumors of online; specifically, a machine that could print a book from a digital file in a few minutes and dispense them like a vending machine. I checked around a bit and found that this magic machine has in fact become a reality; it’s called the Espresso Book Machine, and is produced by a company called On Demand Books. On Demand Books has provided several videos explaining how the machine works and showing it in the process of printing a book here, if you’re interested! Apparently, quite a few people are; there is an EBM at the University of Michigan Library, and their FAQ section on the machine suggests that people interested in simply watching the machine print books stop by during normal business hours, and consider requesting a book of their own to activate the machine on their schedule.
The University of Michigan machine can apparently print a text-only (with no cover pictures) copy of one of the books in their catalog in less than 10 minutes, although special orders can take several days to process. The EBM can only print books up to 800 pages long, and printing a book of that size at the University of Michigan venue costs $25. Considering that right now the EBM will generally only print books that are from the public domain, Google Books (or another open content digitization project, like the Open Content Alliance), or that have a Creative Commons License or a license that specifically allow reprinting, this may not really be a cost-effective option, versus just viewing the book online from one of these free providers. However, the fact that EBMs are popping up in libraries, universities, and businesses across the USA and Canada makes this less of a quirky new techno-toy and more of a legitimate development that should be of interest to librarians (and authors interested in self-publishing) in any field.
Check out On Demand Books' explanation of how the EBM could change how bookstores and publishing works here.