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One for the books

Print-on-demand machine customizes, revolutionizes texts

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  • Story by Ryan Gavin
  • Photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: Feb. 10, 2010
Heather Tearney shows how to make a book with the expresso book machine

Heather Tearney, Mizzou Media coordinator at the University Bookstore, demonstrates how to work the Espresso Book Machine.

About 20 years ago, MU Professor John Faaborg wrote the textbook Ornithology: An Ecological Approach. Over time the publishing company determined that not enough universities were ordering the book and ceased publication. Faaborg, who used it in his courses, got by printing pages from a copier and, later, uploading scans to Blackboard, making notes as new data became available.

But when the new Espresso Book Machine was up and running in the MU Bookstore this fall, Faaborg instantly had a solution to his problem. Instead of requiring students to read copied pages or online scans, Faaborg could recreate his original work, with updated figures, at a fraction of the cost. He compiled the text in a PDF and sent it to Mizzou Media, which took care of everything, including the permissions for outside resources used in his work. A textbook that might have cost students $100 new was now just $17. 

“Pretty much the minute I saw information about it in the paper, it dawned on me that this could be a solution,” Faaborg says about the new print-on-demand device. “In the right circumstances, this is super because it allows you to print something off quickly — and cheaply. It’s even got the real textbook feel to it.”

Rare and valued books

Up and running since November, Mizzou's Espresso Book Machine, often referred to as the EBM, is one of only 21 currently operating in the world and one of five housed on university campuses. Already the machine is solving publishing issues and providing valuable experience for students, faculty and the community.

Last semester a group of students had been assigned to answer the question “What can you do with an English major?” for a class project. They wrote a story about the EBM, submitted their work and had it published using the machine, near which the book is now displayed as an example of created work.

Alice in Wonderland book cover made by Tracey Potts.

The Espresso Book Machine is capable of making color covers, as illustrated by this copy of Alice in Wonderland made by designer Tracey Potts.

Professors are using the EBM to produce texts for classes and departmental projects as well as to create course packets that otherwise would have been sent to costlier outside printing services. Through the University Classics series, faculty can even print public-domain books with forwards or annotations they've written themselves. It’s more than a copy-center version of a publication. Each book made with the machine has a registered International Standard Book Number (ISBN).

The EBM isn't just for the University of Missouri, though. A writer’s group from a local church that had been together for 10 years assembled an anthology of their writings. When they were told it would only cost $10.74 for a 180-page book, the shock was expressed by one word: “Wow!”

Of course the EBM, a prototype made in Lebanon, Mo., doesn’t benefit only those receiving the final products. The student workers — 11 of the 12 staff members — build up their résumés by designing covers, laying out spreads and performing an assortment of other tasks in the publishing process. And of course a portfolio of the work can be turned around and made into a book, complete with a biography and contact information right inside.

“That’s what I really enjoy about it all,” Mizzou Media coordinator Heather Tearney says. “It allows so many opportunities on so many different levels. It’s just such a great resource.”

How to make yours

Putting together a work for publication can seem like a daunting task. However, it’s easy to navigate the process by using the Mizzou Media site. Turnaround time on projects is estimated at 7-10 business days, though the process often is faster, depending on the size of the order and time of the year.

“People are always after the latest, greatest thing technologically, but this one makes too much sense,” says Michelle Froese, public relations manager for Student and Auxiliary Services. “There are so many possibilities, so I certainly encourage anyone to contact us if they have questions or ideas about things they want to do.”

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012