Lately I have come to think of books as computer devices, combining the functions of screen and backup medium. All texts these days are written and type-set on computers, so the paper thingy has long been a secondary manifestation of the text. People like publisher Jason Epstein and book blogger the Grumpy Old Bookman have predicted that we will soon have our books made on demand at any store that may today have a machine for making photographic prints. The texts will reside on the net, on our USB memory sticks or on our handheld computers/cell phones. The paper output/backup-storage device we call “a book” will be produced swiftly in the store by a dedicated machine.
The first of these contraptions, seen in the above pic, is now available Monday through Saturday from 1-5 p.m. at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL).
The book-on-demand approach can be seen as the opposite of bibliophilia. It’s for readers who value the text and simple illustrations but who think little of the book as fetish or objet d’art. Really, it’s just a logical progression from the paperback book: cheap, light-weight, somewhat ephemeral. The machines might make these books already equipped with a BookCrossing identity.
Another interesting aspect is that these machines will cut out the middle man — that is, the publisher. The machine won’t care if the pdf file I send it has been shunted through a publishing house, if I picked it up from an amateur novelist’s web site or if it’s a long out-of-print thing that I found on Google Book Search. Freedom, wider selection, de-professionalisation and another failed business model!
(Pic from Make.)