The Espresso Book Machine Model 1.5 Image credit:On Demand Books
Bloomberg.com reports that this summer the New York Public Library will test an Internet-connected printing and binding machine that puts out a 200-page paperback in minutes. The "Espresso Book Machine,'' from New York-based On Demand Books LLC, prints public domain books available online. See: `Espresso' Spits Out Perfect Book, With Mangled Cover for details.
Does this invention represent environmental and financial progress?
Excess inventory is always zero, which means, hypothetically, that fewer overstock books are sent back for recycling. Environmental plus.
This EBM uses standard laser printing, just like a photo copier would use. And then there is the cover-pasting and page-binding with glue business. I really don't know whether the quality defects in a professional book bindery are fewer. Lets call that a wash.
The shipping l burden for EBM book distribution is less than it is for conventional book printing and distribution on the outbound direction. Consumer travel to the library EBM is likely similar to that needed to buy a book at a bookstore - except it is two way for both consumer trips. Direct shipping of a book to the consumer obviates those two way trips and is therefore likely to have a lower footprint.
A third-party verified life cycle inventory study would be needed to make proper comparison of environmental attributes of EBM versus a more transformational technology: the hand-held digital book. No such study exists. However...
A cost-effectiveness comparison should be feasible based on reasonable assumptions.
Let's assume that a public library can rent out digital book reading devices like Amazon's wireless Kindle.
Teleread reports that the EBM set up at the University of Alberta last year cost US $144,000. They'd have to add operating expenses for electricity, toner, paper, glue, card stock for covers, maintenance, and repairs. It's just a WAG but lets say, for the sake of a first cut comparison, that all that non-capital stuff totals up to US$2/book and that the design life of the EBM equipment is five million pages worth of books in three years.
Lets further assume that the average book EBM prints is 250 pages.
The library could crank out 20,000 books at a total cost of ($2 X 20,000) + $144,000 = $184,000.
We'll not factor in scrap value at the end of three years because both technologies have unpredictable future worth.
A Kindle retails for US$250. Let's assume that the wholesale price is $200/each. The library could buy 720 Kindles for just the capital cost of one EBM. For the total cost to own an EBM ($184,000, using the above-described assumptions), the library could purchase 920 Kindles outright.
Lets assume that the library can rent the Kindles out for $US2.00/per week; capacity utilization is 80%; and that combined theft and breakage rate is 20%, over a three year period.
I'm getting tired. But it looks like a digital book would come out better on the money end, depending on capital cost and theft/breakage rates actually experienced.
Any of you MBA's waiting around to hear back on job applications wanna do a spreadsheet summary to post in comments?
Unless readers return custom printed books to the library for others to borrow and read, EBM is just another way to fill closets up with once-read books.
On balance - awaiting NPV comparisons from one of our genius readers - we give EBM an "almost."