Friday, August 21, 2009

Books A Million

Last August the friendly neighborhood Bookmobile was supersized from an already healthy 32 foot-long mobile library, of some 6000 plus books, into a 74 foot-long, 18-wheeler-behemoth. I’m not sure if it required a tractor trailer license to man the thing, the Digital Bookmobile as it was affectionately dubbed, is nothing compared to the machine called Espresso put out by On Demand Books. Their slogan is “What Gutenberg’s press did for Europe in the 15th century digitization and the Espresso Book Machine will do for the world tomorrow.” That’s a pretty tall order. They also consider themselves an ATM for books, which frankly, doesn’t sound so sexy to me. Essentially they make whatever book you want right before your very eyes on library quality paper. A bookshop that endorses this tool gains leverage. What they don’t have in stock can be fabricated on the cheap. And it creates buzz.

What really is at stake however, is On Demand Books’ attempt to stymie the traditional centralized supply chain for book distribution. They are going right after the customer. Whatever his or her whim at the moment might be that book can be built immediately and carried off. The little juggernaut for this quaint co. is their max page limit of 550 pages. So any tomes larger than that have to use the old-fashioned means, unless you don’t mind snagging a copy of “Infinite Jest” in near-invisible-sized font.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, but doesn’t Kindle already quell that instant gratification reader? And yes, they do, but remember Kindle is downloaded like music onto your device. The Espresso Machine is taking care of your reading urge but spitting out a paper copy.

I think this is a fascinating attempt to utilize technology to give us back our roots— bound books— which many of us are afraid are going the way of the Pterodactyl.

Novel Idea Vending has a more traditional vending machine concept. Their books are prepackaged, but you can browse their LCD screen to see ads, synopses, and what the authors might be up to. They are available 24/7 and provide the same literary rush that Kindle or the Espresso Machine would rather than binging on late-night empty calories. The catch with them is you’re stuck with whatever is wedged between their 6 by 10 foot frame.

Cool as all these machines are they owe their debt of gratitude to the granddaddy of the invention Prof. Richard Carlisle, who, in 1882 invented the first book-vending machine as a novelty for his London bookshop.

I still prefer the Bookmobile. I guess it’s the adult in me who still loves chasing after the Good Humor truck.

1 comment:

  1. Gee, i'm actually glad we don't have any of that yet here. Your 18-wheeler would have no place to park on our crowded little island. Our Honolulu Book Mobile is about the same size as your Good Humor truck. I used to rent from it all the time, but it doesn't come around my neck of the jungle anymore. I think/hope as long as people have hands w/ real fingers, there'll always be a need for books w/ real pages. No instant gratification for me in this area...I love falling asleep w/ the scent of a book right next to my pillow, which is where i'm going right now (it's 1:49--too much caffeine tonight @ my friend's party)...argh!