10 February 2011

Thoughts from my pea brain...

Sometimes ideas come floating in from all sorts of places, bump up against each other and sometimes it all makes sense, and sometimes it’s just another set of oddities in this odd but rapidly changing world we inhabit.

In my pea brain “The Imperfectionists,” an excellent novel, is bumping up against The Espresso Book Machine mentioned here last week, and both are bumping around with an article in the Economist on 3-Dimensional printers.

“The Imperfectionists,” is a highly entertaining debut novel by Tom Rachman. Written as a group of connected short stories, it concerns a fictional English-language daily newspaper published in Rome by a motley group of correspondents – very much based on The International Herald Tribune still published daily in Paris. Rachman in fact served as an editor there.

“The Imperfectionists” brought back for me memories of my own brief career in journalism and public relations. I knew people very much like Rachman’s characters. He has it down: the strange moods and stranger relationships in a big city newsroom.

Last week I poked fun at the new Espresso Book Machine now churning out books-on-demand at the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse in La Cañada.

This week I found out what an Espresso Book Machine actually is. An opinion piece in the trade magazine Publishers Weekly claims instant reprints of long-forgotten titles are making a number of people quite happy.

Jeffrey Mayersohn, proprietor of the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA, says his Espresso Book Machine, nicknamed Paige M. Gutenborg, or “Paige” for short, helps readers “connect with the literature of the past... (and) enables what we believe to be an important part of the future of publishing and bookselling.”

He calls Paige “a literary time machine.” One local poet found and printed a biography of his ancestor. Another customer, a telegraphy enthusiast, printed a copy of “Anglo-American Telegraphic Code to Cheapen Telegraphy & to Furnish a Complete Cypher For Use in General Correspondence Including Business, Social, Political & Other Subjects of Correspondence” first published in 1891.

Harvard Book Store prints about 1,500 books every month on Paige. Self-published works by contemporary authors make up about 75% of the books printed.

Readers in the store choose to reprint physical books even though every one also is available for free as digital downloads through Google, Mayersohn points out.

“For many readers and for writers the allure of paper remains. Watching the joy on their faces leads one inevitably to the conclusion that we still cherish the experience of the printed word, preserved for eternity in the pages of a book.”

Then a report in the Economist speculates on the implications of “additive manufacturing” – 3-dimensional printers that create objects “by depositing material from a nozzle, or by selectively solidifying a thin layer of plastic or metal dust using tiny drops of glue or a tightly focused beam... one layer at a time.”

Calling it “Print Me a Stradivarius” may be an instrument too far. But the idea is not at all far-fetched and its implications are huge – for the price of what a laser printer once cost, inventors already can create prototypes of any idea — sell the object, then modify it based on feedback from users. You can run off a thousand gadgets from a machine in your home. No need to book a factory in China or commit to a traditional manufacturing process.

The implications of homemade manufacturing are profound. As the process gets even better and cheaper, anyone with a blueprint can create the object it represents.

So we have print newspapers thriving alongside Internet-only publications. Bookstores not only selling books but printing them on request. Inventors producing desktop toothbrushes and junkyards able to manufacture spare parts for any car.

The possibilities are fantastic. The world is changing. Sparks are flying.


Espresso Book Machine brochure

The Economist on 3-D printing

Jeffrey Mayersohn’s opinion piece “Hit ‘Print’”

Here is the location of every Espresso Book Machine in the United States of America (it may be out of date by the time you read this)

New Orleans Public Library; University of Michigan Shapiro Library Building; Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, VT; The BYU Bookstore, Harvard Book Store; The University of Arizona Bookstores; University of Missouri Bookstore, University of Utah; Village Books, Bellingham, WA; Boxcar & Caboose Bookshop and Café, Saint Johnsbury, VT; Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA; Schuler Books and Music, Inc. Grand Rapids, MI; University Book Store, Inc. - University of Washington; Grace Mellman Community Library, Temecula, CA; North Dakota State University Bookstore, Fargo, ND; University of Pittsburgh Hillman Library; North Carolina State Bookstores Raleigh, NC; The University Co-Op, Austin, TX; Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse La Cañada Flintridge, CA; McNally Jackson Bookstore, New York City, NY.

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