Espresso Book Machine at McNally Jackson

My last field trip with NYU was to McNally Jackson to learn about their Espresso Book Machine. Basically, the Espresso Book Machine can do print-on-demand, and customers can order their books and watch them be printed.

The Espresso Book Machine can print between 40 and 800 pages, double-sided, and there are currently 8 million titles on the On Demand Books network. (On Demand Books is the parent company). Espresso Book Machines are all over the world. Currently there are 87 machines, most of which are in the U.S. and Canada. Only three Espresso Book Machines are in New York: Brooklyn, McNally Jackson, and the NYU library (which is coming next week).

Although most of the titles on the network are from self-publishers, HarperCollins has its entire backlist available and there are books from university presses, such as Oxford. It takes about 5-7 minutes to print, bind, and trim a book, which I got to see. The machine prints books from back to front, and the glue used to bind the book has to heat to 350 degrees.

There are two parts to the machine: the top, which is the binding section, and the bottom, which is the trimming section (and has a blade to cut pages). The machine is also connected to a PC, which allows users to change the measurements of a book, one at a time, and a Mac, which has the software and connection to the Internet. At one end of the machine is a Xerox machine, which processes and prints the pages.

McNally Jackson charges two fees to its customers: set-up and printing. Setup can cost anywhere from $19-349, depending on how much work needs to be done to the files. Then there is a $7 charge per book, plus 10 cents per page. Since they got the machine in January 2011, the bookstore has had on average one self-publishing customer per day, and they print about 1,000 books per month. There are only two-full time employees who work on the machine, so they do all the operating, maintenance, file formatting, interior and cover design, printing, and meeting with customers.

Most self-publishers print 50-100 books, and they sell less if their books are only available on the On Demand Books network. Authors can choose different packages to suit their needs. Higher costing packages mean books can stay on the On Demand Books network for an indefinite amount of time.

Anyone can buy an Espresso Book Machine from On Demand Books. They cost $150,000 per machine, but there are other options. You can lease from Xerox, one of On Demand’s partners, for less money, or you can rent the machine, or do concessions. On Demand Books tries to tailor to specific places.

On Demand Books is also working to add new features to the program. Some new things to look out for is a color component (currently books can only be printed in black and white). However, color is too expensive a cost right now to offer to customers.

The Self-Serve service just launched, which means people can upload a title and print it anywhere an Espresso Book Machine is located. Customers pay the same cover price as in-store.

McNally Jackson said that Espresso Book Machine is popular for family history books, photography, fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Other locations are different, however. Universities, for example, print more academic books and theses.

McNally Jackson likened having the Espresso Book Machine to operating a mini-business within a business. Having Espresso has been great publicity for the store. When they first decided to buy the machine, they thought, “Why not make the customer happy?” Having the Espresso Book Machine means not needing to make special orders, and having a guaranteed sale. However, it’s hard to get some of the bigger publishers on board. Interestingly, it’s still in the best interest for bookstores to sell the physical books they bought from the publisher, since the margins are still too low for print-on-demand.

On Demand Books describes the Espresso Book Machine as an “ATM for books.” There are currently only 16 employees, and many of the books they print are scanned by Google and are in public domain, meaning they are pre-1923. Lightning Source, a distributor, is also a partner.

On Demand Books is constantly looking for new programs. For example, literary magazines are free to sell. Also, there is a new program with the Brooklyn public schools, where kids will write short pieces about their community, and On Demand Books will publish the books and make them available in local libraries. This will help tie communities together.

Another initiative is to have bloggers use the machine to make books out of their blogs. It would also be interesting to see if Byliner or Atavist partnered with On Demand Books to print their currently digital-only titles. Barnes & Noble could also look into owning their own Espresso Book Machines to have a physical self-publishing presence in their stores, one McNally Jackson employee said.

“We’re talking to everyone, but change is slow.”

At McNally Jackson, 96 percent of printed titles are self-published, about 40 percent of which is fiction. They also have a high number of graphic artists and photographers, which they attribute to their location in New York City. The whole mini-business is a trial-and-error process, so prices are still changing. Cover ink tends to be the most costly expense, while the interior is cheaper. For more information, visit McNally Jackson’s website. Basically, it’s a great inexpensive distribution channel for small publishers and self-publishers.

Take a look at how the machine works:

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