An ATM for Books

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A neat essay in The New York Review of Books on Google and the future of bound books:

Until human beings themselves evolve as electronic receivers, readers will select such books as [Moby Dick and the Illiad]–the embodiment of civilizations–as files from the World Wide Web, whence they will be transmitted either to a personal computer and printed out–a cumbersome procedure resulting in a stack of unbound sheets–or, much more satisfactorily, to a nearby machine not much bigger than an ATM which will automatically print, bind, and trim requested titles on demand that are indistinguishable from factory-made books, to be read as books have been read for centuries.

Meanwhile Google, together with the Gutenberg Project and the Open Content Alliance, and similar programs, has turned a new page in the history of civilizations leaving to us the privilege and the burden of carrying the story further. As part of this effort, On Demand Books, a company in which I have an interest, has installed in the World Bank bookstore in Washington, D.C., an experimental version of a machine such as I have just described, one that receives a digital file and automatically prints and binds on demand a library-quality paperback at low cost, within minutes and with minimal human intervention–an ATM for books. A second experimental machine has been sent to the Alexandrina Library in Egypt and will soon be printing books in Arabic. A newer version will be installed later this year or early next year in the New York Public Library.

I've checked out the World Bank bookstore, and it's pretty awesome. I'd forgotten how exciting data compression is. Everyday I stare at a tiny box that contains entire libraries. But a machine that can actually spit the library back at you in its old-fashioned form brings home just how impressive such things are. If you're near one of these book ATMs, go check it out.

Via A&L Daily

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  1. So cool. Almost every day I shake my head in amazement at how much information I have access to. Wow.

    As for book printing/vending machines, I think that’s a nice concept, but I’m betting that the future is either in super high-res handhelds or in electronic ink. Download the book, and voil

  2. So cool. Almost every day I shake my head in amazement at how much information I have access to. Wow.

    As for book printing/vending machines, I think that’s a nice concept, but I’m betting that the future is either in super high-res handhelds or in electronic ink. Download the book, and voil

  3. Electronic Ink or other portable, thin digital display devices will ultimately be the way to go.

  4. Sony came out with what is reputedly a pretty good reader (the Sony Reader) earlier this year. Here’s a review. I figure that, realistically, the resolution needs to be cranked up some, but I’d love to see one in operation. Considering the number of works in the public domain, and the ability to convert blogs or e-mails to this format for easier reading, this is a nice idea. And, of course, this type of reader could be used to read books purchased in digital format. Look for Bookster to come out shortly, with peer-to-peer exchange of pirated electronic books.

    No flying cars, but the future isn’t all a disappointment. Soon, with my biological and mechanical enhancements, I won’t need a flying car, anyway 🙂

  5. Dey tuk are jeorbs!

  6. It’s awe-inspiring to think that the only things standing between me and the sum total of human knowledge are a few unreliable fucking whore servers.

  7. Maybe I’m just a young fuddy-duddy, but there’s something special about a real, honest-to-God book, which makes the book ATM possibly the coolest device ever (a distinction that will be superseded by electronic ink at some point in the next few years.)

  8. Finally. I was wondering when these things would start popping up. I give it ten years until a lighter-duty version that plugs in like an ordinary laser printer and fits in the corner of a home office will be available at a manageable price.

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