More on Powells' New Espresso Book Machine


With 8 million titles available, I wonder how many will be newly written books by authors no one knows about. Not to be a downer, because there are definite pros here, but book design is important, and quality of the printing, paper, ink etc. are aesthetically important, especially if we're paying $15-20. I searched for a book I want that was published in Canada last year (which is selling via mail order for CAN $19 + $13 for shipping & handling) plus a few of my long-sought-after out-of-print books and none were available via this machine.
After getting rid of 90% of my physical music and movies, I'm looking at my books next. I have too many of them and I'm thinking an Android tablet is the way to go.

I think that's why the McSweeney's model is a good one for the future. A lot of indie music labels have been doing this for a while now, putting out 180gm colored vinyl in sturdy gatefold sleeves with nice artwork, posters, inserts, booklets, etc.

I think this machine is a great idea but not really all that cost effective for self-publishing, except as a vanity project.
People who are incredulous that bound books still need to exist are irritating.
I'm looking at my shoes next. Who needs 'em?
Books are still an amazing technology, portable, durable, operable without anything but hands and eyes, so they're still relevant and marketable. Like bikes, they aren't replaced by newer technologies. Even better if the books are well-made. The thing the EBM does that's awesome is to bring book production down to the neighborhood level. Those other beautiful books at Powell's were made by the thousands, usually tens or hundreds of thousands, in printing plants, most in China, and have been shipped all over the world. And half of them will end up in the garbage because traditional publishing always prints too many copies. McSweeny's's beautiful books are mostly made in Iceland and shipped from there. The EBM is like your corner cafe; they make what you order, one-at-a-time, and hand it to you. This is a huge shift in the book business. It's true the style of their books tends to be dull, trying to look like a "real" book. Publication Studio also does one-at-a-time local production, but we do it by hand, no pre-programmed formats, so we can make beautiful, unique books. The PSU Bookstore also has an awesome print-on-demand machine with exactly the same capabilities as Powell's's EBM, and they've been running theirs for a couple of years; I bet they'd make some amazing, unique books, if someone asked them to. So, no: the McSweeny's model is not the only path to unique or beautiful books, and it's a traditional, typically wasteful one. It makes sense to have your books made close to home, and the EBM let's regular bookstore shoppers do that.
Where does the espresso come in?
If I submit a porn movie file for self-publishing as my book, will the machine give me a porn flip book?
Matthew, it sounds like you might be taking the model of the bigger publishing houses and applying it to traditional publishing in general, but I don't think around half the copies of the average book generally end up unread and pulped if we're talking about small presses (if they know what they're doing!) though there will always be a few titles that just bomb. And many small presses that do conventional print runs still get their books printed in the USA.
I've noticed a tendency now for many people to talk about how wasteful the conventional print-run model is, vis-a-vis print-on-demand and e-books. It can be, and often is, but certainly not always. Publishers don't always print too many: often a print run will sell out one way or another (sometimes with a significant number of remainders and hurt copies, etc. but not always) and then it's out of print, or available on a print-on-demand basis.
There are definitely advantages to the EBM but I'm not yet convinced it produces really attractive books. A lot of the really nice books, gorgeous hardcovers etc., have to be produced abroad because the machinery needed to produce it costs millions and millions of dollars and printers here just don't have it available.
I agree with you @Geyser, and I'm glad to see nuance given to the broad brush strokes I used. I wanted to point out the central innovation of the EBM -- local, one-at-a-time production -- and endorse the good sense of that economy. For sure, print-runs that get shipped around can be managed sensibly and profitably. 99% of the books I buy have come to me that way. But that is an entirely different economy than the new one that's recently become possible through digital transmission feeding local production of books. It's the difference between the corner baker and Wonderbread. Paradoxically, the EBM tries to look as Wonderbread as possible, but that's because it was conceived of and capitalized by major publishers, or people whose careers were there. And certainly books, being less perishable than bread, travel far and we get some of our best books from very far away indeed. But we may not need to for very long.
Also, having just blazed through Love is Not Constantly.. I can confirm it is $6 well spent.
wow, there's a really good round of buzzword bingo buried in this comment thread.
I'm excited for this machine. I almost want to write a work of pure nonsense and print 20 copies. JUST BECAUSE IT WOULD BE FUN.

I prefer to read on my iPad/iPhone, personally. I read A LOT more than I used to. The convenience of having several books "on the go" is huge. Not to mention being able to read without a lamp (good for when my BF is sleeping). But this preference is absolutely not the same as wanting to see print books die - print books are a thing of beauty.

I somewhat see this as a component to self-publishing via eBook. Machines like this are going to improve access to the ability to create artistic works without needing the backing of someone. I fail to see how there is any downside here.
I am eternally perplexed and entertained you dorks have enough free time and lack of real problems in life to actually debate this. Also, I won 20$ today, as I bet on this subject and you nerds with a friend of mine. Man was he perplexed by you,lol. Thanks guys. Oh and I prefer the old fashiony books, thanks