Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tthe Espresso Book Machine

In the Middle Ages, a book was a big production. It might take a year for a monk to copy a manuscript, which is Latin for “written by hand,” onto a specially prepared calf, sheep or goat skin and then to decorate it with silver or gold.In the mid-15th century, Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, sped up book production considerably with the invention of movable type. A single book page might take half a day, faster if workers showed industry. Today, the book business is faster still, but few things are as fast as something called the Espresso Book Machine, the product of a high-tech publishing venture that has nothing to do with caffeine.
Yesterday, in the lobby of a Midtown branch of the New York Public Library, three visitors a graduate student, a Hong Kong publishing executive and a sixth grader stood in various states of awe as a Rube Goldberg contraption produced a book from digital code to hefty paperback in under 15 minutes. The book machine, which occupies the space of two deli-style ice cream freezers, looks like office photocopiers attached to a tinted stereo cabinet and computer terminal. It hums, makes spitting noises, moans and then belches out a newly glued book, fresh as bread and almost as hot.
There are only three book machines in existence so far. The others are in Washington, at the bookstore of the World Bank, and in Alexandria, Egypt, at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the modern revival of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. A 300-page book costs about $3 to produce with the machine. A bookstore or library could then sell it to customers or library members at cost or at a markup.
Mr. Luhr, a Columbia University graduate student studying education technology, wonders how the machine might affect the future of the bookstore. “It can’t replace it because it can’t replace the atmosphere of a bookstore,” he said.
As for Leysly Avila, 10, the sixth grader, visiting from Vancouver, she likes the machine because “you get to see how a book is made.”
(more from NYtimes)

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