Personal Luxuries | The Reconnoisseur

A novel approach to literature on demand

Forget ebooks – this machine can print and bind any tome in minutes

A novel approach to literature on demand

February 13 2012
Mark Ellwood

Yes, I bought an iPad as soon as it was available, and it has transformed how I read newspapers and magazines, especially the How To Spend It app. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t enjoy curling up with a novel on my screen, although I did like the idea of the convenience of instant delivery. A book delivered to my screen within minutes seemed appealing.

Then my local bookstore in downtown Manhattan provided an answer to my need for quick-fix literature: McNally Jackson installed the Espresso Book Machine, a Heath Robinson-esque contraption that whirs in the window next to its café. This is like a real-world answer to digital delivery, a print-on-demand facility that can print and bind any one of almost 4m books within minutes.

Most of the titles are out of copyright rather than current top 10 bestsellers, but the latter are usually in stock anyway at McNally Jackson. And in any case, the former are much more to my taste (give me a Victorian novel over a contemporary work anytime). My copy of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles cost just $7.99. I can even self-publish a book using the Espresso Book Machine (maybe an anthology of the best Reconnoisseurs). This, though, would take a little longer, as the operators of the machine recommend a pre-publishing consultation session.

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