The Espresso Book Machine at Bookshop Santa Cruz is the size of a big copy machine. On one end is a high-speed laser printer, on the other is a color inkjet printer. This is a new form of publishing, made possible by technology. Casey Coonerty Protti, who runs Bookshop Santa Cruz, says she hopes services like this will allow the store to continue to be a place where people discover and buy books.
"There are people a year ago who said there wouldn't even be any bookstores left a year from now because of ebooks, " she says.
Bookstores have had a tough run lately. The slow economy has meant fewer sales at a time when online sellers offer the same books for less than bricks and mortar stores. Protti has run Bookshop Santa Cruz since she took it over from her father in 2006.
"I would say that we've undergone more change in six years than he probably saw in the 30 years prior to that," Protti says.
The Espresso Book Machine is part of how she hopes to stay ahead of the change.
Jason Epstein is the former editorial director of book publisher Random House. He launched one of the most popular book formats of the 20th century: trade paperbacks. In the late 1990s Epstein speculated that digitization of books would challenge how books are sold. He envisioned a machine that could print a single volume of a book. Epstein met an inventor who had built such a machine and founded On Demand Books to sell them.
"Logically the day would come when every book ever written in every language would be available digitally either to download on a screen and other wise they'd be printed on demand on that machine, " says Epstein.
The Espresso Book Machine doesn't have every book ever written but its library is always growing and currently has eight million titles. Most of the machine's titles are in the public domain. Each Espresso Book Machine costs about a hundred thousand dollars, a bit steep for most independent bookstores. At Bookshop Santa Cruz, On Demand Books is sharing some of that risk through a partnership with the store.
At Bookshop Santa Cruz, an author can get help from Espresso Books consultant Sylvie-Marie Drescher in creating a cover design, registering an ISBN number or copy editing. In each case, the store collects a fee. Much of the business is with self-publishing authors, people printing family histories and other small projects.
"The good thing is Silvie's here and so she does the human to human connection which is something you can't get online when you're ordering books or deciding to print your books online. We don't want to forget about the human touch," says bookstore owner Casey Coonerty Protti.
The prospect of self-publishing drew Annie Moultray and her mother Julie to the store to investigate. Thirteen-year-old Annie hopes to be a writer. Her mother says Annie already has plans for the book machine.
"I was able to drag Annie along because she says 'Take me to he bookstore to see the machine,'" Moultray says.
With the cover printed and the pages printed and stacked, the mechanisms in the center of the machine press the pages into a tight stack, slather glue on one edge and push them onto the cover. The theater of the machine is not lost on the store: the sides are transparent so everyone can watch as the book is pressed into shape and trimmed. The finished product comes out of a slot on the side. It takes about five minutes.
The Espresso Book Machine at Bookshop Santa Cruz is printing 20 to 50 volumes per day. Protti expects to see that number grow as more people bring projects to the store and hopes it will be profitable in a year.