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For years, the fantasy has been a total transformation of the bookstore: this “Bookstore 2.0” doesn’t have a bunch of shelves and displays for a vast inventory of books. Instead, it has a large computer kiosk where customers can browse through a vast database of books — conceivably there would be no need for a book to ever go out of print, since they would all be made-to-order — and request any desired book be printed, bound, and available for sale within minutes (or seconds). That would be nice. We’re not quite there yet (and I’m not entirely sure that we ever will be), but the Espresso Book Machine is certainly a good step in the right direction. There are apparently only about fifty of these things in the world so far, and they have a few limitations: the inventory of book titles available is limited; the machine is expensive, bulky, and has to be operated by a trained employee; and it’s quirky and prone to breakdowns. But it has a pretty cool capability of printing off inexpensive, mass market copies of books (as these pictures of the finished product and the machine itself attest). That’s a very nice print-on-demand capability for self-published eBooks, for example. Here’s a piece on one NYC bookstore that has an Espresso Book Machine in operation.

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