Darien Library, CT, launched a new Espresso Book Machine (EBM), which can print and create a bound book in a matter of minutes, during its annual meeting on October 30. The Sacramento Public Library (SPL), CA, will soon launch its own EBM. They’re two of only three public libraries in the country currently providing the fee-based print-on-demand service to patrons—but if the service catches on, it could be the first step in establishing public libraries as a center for on-demand book printing and self-publishing.
The machines, manufactured by New York City-based On Demand Books, have been installed in about a dozen bookstores and two academic libraries in the United States (at the University of Michigan and the University of Utah). Until recently, the only other public library system with an EBM installed was Riverside County Library System, CA, though On Demand VP of sales Jason Beatty told LJ that he has been in talks with a few other public libraries, and expects to make further announcements soon. On Demand’s demo video of the EBM shows how the system works:
SPL owns its $151,000 EBM, funded via a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the California State Library. “The last 12 weeks have been filled with ordering and receiving the machine and getting it ready to use,” said SPL director Rivkah Sass (LJ’s 2006 Librarian of the Year). The project is being managed there by SPL’s outreach and community services supervisor Manya Shorr (a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker).
The library plans to hire a part-time dedicated staffer to operate the machine, with a focus on helping patrons self-publish works. EBM maintenance is handled by Xerox, On Demand’s sales and maintenance partner.
Darien director Louise Parker Berry told LJ that they decided not to purchase the EBM outright, instead taking a lower-cost option: a concession agreement with On Demand, under which On Demand will pay rent for the space, will provide staffers to operate the machine (and provide maintenance), and give the library an undisclosed percentage of the gross revenues received from patrons.
Patrons will be able to print books on demand for a fee—in the range of about $8 to $12 for a 200-page book. The EBM’s database, EspressNet, currently includes some four million public-domain titles—including many from Google Books—as well as 2.8 million in-copyright works from publishers, with more on the way. (SPL licenses the database at a cost of $25,000.)
The EBM provides a way for library patrons to get print versions of these publishers’ selected backlist titles—providing that patrons are willing, and able, to pay for them. A few of the publishers that allow their titles to be printed on demand, including Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette Book Group, are notable for making their ebook titles unavailable for library lending. HarperCollins, which instituted a 26-loan cap on its lendable library ebooks in February, also reached an agreement with On Demand in September [PDF]. On Demand is currently in talks with additional publishers.
Publishing patrons’ stories
The EBM will also allow the libraries to provide self-publishing services, though it’s not cheap for patrons. Prices will vary according to the length of the book and the services provided, but at established EBM locations (such as the McNally Jackson bookstore in New York City), the printing of a self-published book costs a few hundred dollars minimum, for a very small print run.
Nonetheless, On Demand’s Beatty told LJ that libraries he’s spoken to have been interested in providing such as service as a way to “reach out to their communities.”
SPL is currently working on self-publishing pricing models, said Sass. The “premier package,” she said, will include a Library of Congress number, a barcode, and an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for the final printed books. Sass says that SPL saw the EBM as “an opportunity to help people publish their own stories.”
“In talking with Xerox we have learned about 90% of the printing done on these machines is related to self publishing and 10% is from the [EspressNet] database,” she said. “We see huge opportunities with local historical societies, genealogical societies, writers groups and schools.” A public information session on the EBM is scheduled at the library for November 8 at 6:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
When asked how much self-publishing she expects at Darien, Berry told LJ, “That remains to be seen. We’re told that in some venues, self-publishing is a big part of the print stream of the EBM.”
Another library-specific use of the EBM would be to provide an alternative to interlibrary loan (ILL), in cases where printing a book is a more economical option. Though Sass said that “was never our vision” at SPL, Berry said that Darien planned to “determine whether it will be less expensive and more convenient to fulfill ILL requests by patrons by accessing them from the EBM.”