A flat white and a novel to go

If former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein has his way, as early as next year people will be able to order books online in just about any language.

And faster than you can say “Grande Caramel Macchiato,” they will be able to be pick up the finished product at a nearby bookstore, coffee shop or copy shop.

At least that’s the concept behind Epstein’s latest venture, On Demand Books, which he founded last year with former Dean & DeLuca president and CEO Dane Neller and technology expert Thor Sigvaldason.

The company recently received an infusion of cash, nearly $766,000, from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and has begun beta testing its Espresso Book Machine, which can print black-and-white text for a 300-page paperback with a four-color cover, and bind it together in three minutes.

“Our goal is to preserve the economic and ergonomic simplicity of the physical book,” said Epstein, who laments the disappearance of backlist and ready access to books in other languages.

By printing from digital files, ODB hopes to make warehousing—and much of today’s distribution model—obsolete.

“In theory,” said Epstein, “every book printed will be digitized, which means the market will be radically decentralized. A bookstore with this technology, without any expense to themselves [other than the machine] can increase their footprint.”

Of course, that also means that Kinko’s or Wal-Mart can transform themselves into mini-bookstores, especially given the machine’s affordability. Neller anticipates that it will retail for less than $US100,000.

There’s more information at the Publisher’s Weekly web site.