I'm amazed how quickly the Espresso Book Machine has become a hot topic. On September 16, I thought about it for the first time in ages; on Sep 17, CNN ran a story about it; the next day, so did Computerworld; and the day after, I saw it for myself in Manchester, VT.
The October 5 issue of Publishers Weekly ran a story on the machine as well. This article made me consider that the Espresso Book Machine is, in a way, a slower, not faster, way to fulfill customer orders. The current, most popular method for literature acquisition is to walk into a bookstore and pick up a prebound title. With the Espresso, you'll have to wait minutes for a custom order. That may sound like a step in the wrong direction, but you can also think of traditional bookstores being fast food restaurants, with the EBM offering a slower, more personal dining experience.
Still, I think that the EBM's popularity in the news will not carry over to the marketplace. Retail customers don't always know what they want, or they do but want to see it first. With the EBM's virtual catalog not being displayed on a shelf, will shoppers even think to look through it? On the opposite end of the spectrum, imagine that the system becomes very popular. In an eight- hour workday, the EBM can print at most 96 books. That's a significant bottleneck. Although selling 96 books a day at $7 each will take only 111 days to produce the initial investment in the EBM ($75K), that money isn't wholly profit. How long before the EBM earns its keep?