I swung by Powell's on my lunch break to check out the new Espresso Book Machine, a print-on-demand bookmaking machine that draws from a catalog of more than seven million books—public domain stuff plus limited copyrighted titles—as well as providing the option to self-publish. It resembles a creaky piece of 1980s office equipment, and there's a little info booth in front where a few examples of its work were already on display. The books looked pretty good, I gotta say—the cover colors were clean, the bindings seemed sturdy. They looked like books, basically. I picked up some literature about the machine which I will now regurgitate to you:
-You will soon be able to order books online. In the meantime, check out the catalog.
-Public domain titles are reproduced from scanned library books, so may include markings or notations present in the original book.
-Books can be personalized. Hello, Christmas presents.
-The self-publishing service seems very well-supported, offers access to support and design assistance (for a fee), and is very flexible in terms of book size, print run (there's no minimum number you can print), etc. $25 gets you a one-time setup (or $149 for access to more support and ongoing storage of your work on the EBM server), after which point each book costs you $5 + $.045 per page.
When I was at Powell's, before I went up to look at The Machine, I spent a few minutes talking myself down from buying a Poe Ballantine novel published by local house Hawthorne Books. I almost bought the book half because I want to read it, and half because it was pretty—Hawthorne puts out lovely books with distinctive covers and classy French flaps (when a soft-cover book folds in on the sides like a dust jacket). It's often suggested that with the increasing popularity of ebooks, publishers should/will move toward the McSweeney's model of publishing, which emphasizes "book-as-object." The Book Machine is a step in the opposite direction, back to book-as-collection-of-paper-that-has-words-on-it.
Mercury Film Editor Erik Henriksen—a regular Kindle user—expressed extreme bafflement at the existence of such a machine. I'd use it, though: Despite owning and liking a Kindle, I still have a stubborn preference for reading in print, and all other things being equal (price, convenience, availability) would always take a print book over a digital one. Plus, being able to create physical copies of hard-to-find/out-of-print titles is pretty amazing in its own right.
Vaguely related: Since we're on the subject of local publishing: Slate just ran a great review of Love Is Not Constantly Wondering if You're Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life, one of my favorite recent local books, soon to see reissue from small publisher Perfect Day Press.