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ODB has mysterious plan to slay trad(e) publishing

March 22, 2009

Henrik Drescher recently reminded me that books are dead. This is bad news, because we made two good ones together, and if he’s right, they were perhaps his last.

Unless, unless! He advised me to look up “espresso book machine.” What I got is ODB. No, not ODB, not even fauxDB, but rather On Demand Books: “What Gutenberg’s press did for Europe in the 15th century digitization and the Espresso Book Machine will do for the world tomorrow.”

ODB!

ODB!

I’ve been waiting for the day when I could trade the experience of asking a bookseller, which I was off and on for five years, for asking a barista to get me something “identical to factory made books” to read.

But of course nothing like a coffee bar is being proposed here. There’s so much about this site that seems iffy—not least the baffling line quoted above (crucially missing comma), and the bewildering lack of branding sense in calling this thing the “Espresso Book Machine” (or is it an “ATM”?)—that I’m trying to find out more about how this company endeavors to change the book market. Rather than contribute to the ongoing register of apocalyptic signs about the publishing industry, I just want to investigate this joint further to see where it leads.

The Espresso Book machine, via SuperlativeQuip on Flickr

The Espresso Book machine, via SuperlativeQuip on Flickr

On-demand publishing is not new, and companies like Blurb and Lulu have been pushing the envelope of color reproduction and visual publishing for years. But putting these machines in a few libraries here and there doesn’t seem like the model to vanquish trad/trade publishing.

This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education seems to have the best recent assessment of ODB’s endeavors. What else do you know? Anyone see this thing in action at the NYPL in 07?

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