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Shakespeare in seconds: Instant book machine gets Google Books access

September 17, 2009 |  9:24 am

Espressomachineatbea

Today OnDemandBooks, the makers of the Espresso Book Machine, announced a deal with Google Book Search for access to the more than 2 million public domain books in Google's digital files. If you've got access to an Espresso, Shakespeare's "As You Like It" can be yours in less than five minutes and for about $8.

Of course, we've been able to buy reissues of Shakespeare for years. But those reissues were made at a centralized location, then shipped to booksellers, who put them on shelves and eventually sent unsold copies back to the publisher. With an Espresso, the books are first sold, then printed, inverting the standard publishing industry business model.

One of the hopes is that the books printed won't be limited to well-known classics but that niche books also will find an audience, one that is less interested in reading on a computer screen than in holding a printed and bound version in its hands.

Google's archive includes such books as 1843's "Travels in the Great Western Prairies and the Anahuac and Rocky Mountains and the Oregon Territory" by Thomas J. Farnham, whose hungry trek seems obscure but might be meaningful to a historian -- or a modern hiker -- who didn't have access to the original. Google scanned books from the University of Michigan, the New York Public Library, and Oxford, Stanford and Harvard universities to build its massive digital archive.

The privately owned Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., will soon have an Espresso machine, providing an ironic access for its customers. "Most people can’t get into the Harvard Library, but you can print their books next door," Google spokeswoman Jennie Johnson told Wired.

Jason Epstein, chairman and co-founder of OnDemandBooks, calls the Espresso "an ATM for books." But as anyone who's ever had an account at a small bank knows, it can be a hard to find an ATM when you need one. Hopeful users of the Espresso machine will, by the end of this year, have only 13 U.S. and 11 international locations to get their insta-book fix.

One place where you can find an Espresso is the Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt, which, in reinventing the old Library of Alexandria, is tying a very old shared intellectual tradition to this very new one.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: A demonstration of the Espresso Book Machine in 2009. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg

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