BoingBoing has an astonishing story today – the New York Public Library has just installed the first Espresso book machine and will offer free printed copies of any of over 200,000 public domain book in the Open Content Alliance. Wow! There are also a few in-copyright books available – Jason Epstein’s Book Business (which predicted this gadgetry) and Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail (which is wagging this puppy). If you want to check it out, go to the Science, Industry and Business library on Madison Avenue, not the one with the lions. According to the press release, this project is partially funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and is a collaboration between the On Demand Books, the Alliance, and NYPL. Even better, they’re doing this elsewhere. In the fall, it will be available at the New Orleans Public Library. Amazing.
But I can’t help wondering . . . what if someone came in and asked for one of each?
Postscript: If:Book’s Dan Visel has visited NYPL and gotten a book. Only twenty titles were on offer, it took twenty minutes (if he’d asked for Moby Dick it could have taken hours), and “it looks like a cheap paperback.” Visel speculates, though, that this could be the beginning of a big change. Will bookstores cease to exist as these machines set up shop in the “FedExKinkosBarnesandNobels” – a future without bookstores previously proposed by Jason Epstein. Which raises an interesting issue: a public library recently dropped Dewey Decimal in favor of bookstore-style subject shelving because (they say) most people don’t know what they want, they browse. And not on the computer. So what would this “on demand” future look like if people weren’t sure what to demand?