The decline and fall of books

Posted on June 28, 2009 

The decline and fall of books

Like so many prototypes of supposedly revolutionary inventions, the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) fails to impress. Sited in a branch of Blackwell’s in Charing Cross Road, London, the machine resembles an oversized photocopier with extra bits. Can this be part of, as a Blackwell’s executive has claimed, “the biggest change since Gutenberg”?

It is an attractive idea. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to go into a shop knowing that if the book you wanted was not in stock, you could get it printed specially for you? Or that you could browse the catalogue and get copies of whatever you fancy in minutes. Blackwell’s claims that the EBM offers 400,000 titles, which are digitised texts from libraries and other sources. On receiving an order, the machine takes about 20 minutes to set up the file and then prints a perfectly acceptable paperback book in five minutes. A 400-page book costs about £9. Those produced from digital files look good; those produced from books that have gone through a scanner look a bit rough.

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