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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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A Print Book-Making Machine for a Washington, DC, Bookseller

An independent bookstore in Washington, DC, called Politics and Prose has installed a new book-making machine (Espresso Book Machine) that poses a number of profound implications for print books. This machine can produce a paperback book of between 40 and 800 pages, in a multiplicity of sizes up to 8” x 10.5”, with most print books ready in four to ten minutes, for a cost of $8.00 for 200 pages plus $2.00 for every additional hundred—or fewer–pages.

This remarkable machine is called the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) — it is a print on demand (POD) machine that prints, collates, covers, and binds a single book in a few minutes. Politics and Prose has nicknamed their machine “Opus.”

What Are the Implications?

I do not know how many machines like this exist in the country or the world at this point in time, but given the specifications of the custom printing product (of quality equal to the perfect-bound books already on the bookstore shelves), I think this may provide an alternative to both mass-produced print books written by established authors and e-books, which provide content without the physical experience of reading a book.

These are my thoughts:

Access to Out-of-Print Books

The Espresso Book Machine (nicknamed Opus by Politics & Prose) allows customers to access millions of out-of-print books and produce attractive, durable, and affordable physical copies. For the most part, due to the cost of shelf space (overall expenses involved in running a bookstore divided by the square footage of the bookshelves), booksellers need to purchase and sell products that will move. If more people want to read Stephen King than Plato, there will be more copies of the former in a bookstore than the latter. In fact, in most cases, out-of-print books may be unavailable altogether. With a machine like Opus, this can change. People can buy what they want to read, not just what’s popular. And with such a reasonable price-point (comparable to other books in the store), these books will be within reach for most people.

A Venue for Independent Publishers

Due to the bookseller’s need to fill shelf space with popular material that will sell, a few sought-after writers can command a premium for their work while most authors have few options. (Of course this is changing with the advent of e-books, and for a similar reason. (E-books are cheap to produce because their production consumes no raw materials, requires no warehousing, and incurs no delivery costs.)

What Opus will do for small publishers and individual authors is allow them to find a buyer and then individually produce a copy of their book for that buyer. An author can produce one copy or a hundred copies, and as long as the sale price exceeds the production cost, the writer can distribute his or her work and make a profit. There’s no need for a huge up-front expense to produce a long print run or to warehouse their inventory.

What this means beyond the practical business terms outlined above is that readers will have access to independent authors, and independent authors will have access to readers.

The Experience of Physical Books

As one who appreciates the physical experience of reading a print book (the smell, feel, and sound of the paper; the interesting variants of binding technology; the nuances of paper color, embossing, debossing, and gloss and matte paper coatings), I’m happy to know there are alternatives to e-books. I think others may appreciate print books for similar reasons. And this machine (as well as other similar machines that I expect will show up across the country) offers this option at an affordable price.

The Specifics of the Process

Essentially, Opus works like a digital, on-demand book printing press. You either download a PDF of an out-of-print book, or you upload a PDF of your own custom printing job. A black and white laser printer produces the text pages on 8.5” x 11” paper, while an inkjet printer produces the cover on 11” x 17” stock. The machine perfect-binds the pages into the cover with cool-bind glue, and then knife blades trim the book to size (anything from 4.5” x 5” to 8” x 10.5”).

While none of this technology is new, given the plethora of inkjet and laser printers in commercial printing shops (everything from a Docutech to an HP Indigo), what’s new is the venue. You normally wouldn’t enter a commercial printing shop to order one or five copies of a book. Yet with a machine such as Opus in the book shop you visit to relax, you might just spend a little to produce your own book.

3 Responses to “A Print Book-Making Machine for a Washington, DC, Bookseller”

  1. admin says:

    Thank you for your comment. I have not yet seen the Espresso machine at Politics and Prose, although I have seen all its component parts in digital print shops. I think that putting together the laser printer, ink jet printer, and bindery equipment in one location accessible to individuals is a unique approach. Unfortunately, machines such as these do break down. Even at commercial print shops they require maintenance, and many print shops therefore have redundant equipment on hand.

  2. Excellent article. Keep writing such kind of info on your page.
    Im really impressed by your site.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Espresso Book Machine.


    • admin says:

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on the PIE Blog.

      It will be most interesting in upcoming years to see how the Internet and tablet computers, along with personal publishing equipment like the Espresso Book Machine, will affect publishing in general and our personal reading habits in particular.

      Please do stop by regularly to read future PIE Blog articles.


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