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Personal publishing machine coming to University Bookstore

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:41 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 15, 2009

COLUMBIA — University Bookstore is buying a new vending machine.

But it's not like any other vending machine available.

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It has the power to queue, print and bind more than one million published books from nearly 8,000 publishers right in front of your eyes. Fewer than 20 exist in the world, and MU's will be one of three at universities nationwide; the others are at Brigham Young University and the University of Michigan. It’s costing the bookstore about $75,000.

Built in Lebanon, Mo., the Espresso Book Machine from On Demand Books in New York City is literally an in-house printing press.

The EBM will be installed on the bottom floor of the bookstore in between the textbook section and TigerTech. It will available for about 10 hours a day and will be run by bookstore employees. MU is scheduled to receive the machine Sept. 21; an opening event is planned for Nov. 4.

The EBM can print paperback books, from 40 to 830 pages, for about a penny per page, according to On Demand Books’ Web site. A 300-page book can print in about four minutes. The bookstore will build a small profit margin into the cost for using the machine, but it will mostly go to pay for upkeep and operating expenses, said Michelle Froese, public relations manager for MU Student and Auxiliary Services.

Heather Tearney, Mizzou Media coordinator with the bookstore, visited the Espresso Book Machine plant in Lebanon and watched the machines work as engineers constantly tweaked them.

“Every part of the machine, separate from the printers, is made specifically for that order,” Tearney said. Essentially the machines get better with each one sold.

On Demand Books uses a service called Espressnet to queue all the published books available for print within its interface. Tearney said she doubts best-sellers such as the “Twilight” series or Stephen King novels will be available to print. Some publishers keep popular series or authors exclusively to themselves, similar to those popular musicians who don’t allow iTunes to sell their albums.  

Tearney said MU will start its own line of books called the University Classics. In the collection, classic titles such as “Frankenstein” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will be published with introductions and summaries written by MU faculty and graduate students.

Froese had a copy of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in her office tucked on the bottom shelf of her bookcase and didn’t hesitate to show it off. The book, printed from an EBM, served as a prototype for the University Classics series. A logo and small picture of the famous MU columns were on the lower section of the white cover, a color graphic in the center of it. It looked like any other paperback.

Tearney said the EBM has two printers, one for the covers and one for the pages. When the EBM ships to MU, only the cover printer will support color printing; University Bookstore is slated to receive a page printer that supports color printing in 2010 from On Demand Books.

Assembling out-of-print titles is also a possibility with the EBM. Froese said that a lot of times if a book is no longer in print, a small royalty fee can be paid to print it.

Froese also said the machine would be good for graduate students who want to print extra and considerably less-expensive paperback copies of their dissertations; the EBM is not intended to print the formal dissertation, which might be required in hardback.

The EBM can print anything from a standard PDF file, which users can upload from flash drives.

University Bookstore is responsible for supplying paper, cover stock, ink and glue for the EBM. A box of glue dots has already been delivered to Tearney’s office.

Tearney said she has had inquiries about the machine from people in Michigan, Kansas and Chicago who are interested in using the EBM to print their own work. Right now, Tearney is seeking out Columbia-area writers interested in testing out the EBM during the opening event on Nov. 4 to print some of their own work.

Tearney is excited about the color page printer coming next year. She said an idea of parents using the EBM to chronicle their children's artwork is floating around her office. Another idea is printing family cookbooks for Christmas gifts. Everyone in her office seems to have new ideas every day for different applications for the EBM.

“The potential for this machine is really unlimited,” Tearney said.


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