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One custom book, to go!


It’s called Espresso, but this machine at the University of Alberta bookstore doesn’t brew coffee. Rather, it prints paperback books on demand in mere minutes.

The bookstore has the only Espresso Book Machine in Canada and just the fourth in the world. Since the machine’s arrival in early November, it has been running virtually non-stop, says Todd Anderson, the bookstore’s manager. He estimates the machine has cranked out more than 1,000 custom-ordered books in one month.

The Espresso printer looks a bit like five large photocopiers strung together and can print up to four books at a time. Mr. Anderson says U of A’s extensive digital content collection and the size of its bookstore helped convince the company, On Demand Books, that it would be a popular place for its machine.

“We have so many varied revenue streams and uses for this thing,” he says. “We had somebody come in who wanted to print his father’s memoirs. His father was a prisoner of war in World War II and wrote his memoirs, and so we printed a book for him. It’s a fantastic thing.”

To print a book, the customer either provides an electronic file or hardcopy pages that are then scanned and digitized. The bookstore converts the file into PDF format, and from that the machine produces a library-quality, perfect-bound paperback. The bookstore charges five cents a page for the service. If the material is covered by copyright, copyright fees do apply.

The beauty of the machine, says Mr. Anderson, is not just that it can print books that might otherwise never be printed, but it also can save money. He cites the example of a physical chemistry course where the instructors wanted to use materials from an out-of-print book published in 1993.

“We are able to print this thing and have it on our shelf for about $30. Normally, this [book] would cost $150 for students,” he says. “That was the sweet spot for us, the educational value and the student savings.”

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