Gutenberg Reprieve or Quixotic Extravagance?

printing pressBlackwell publishing launched a machine today that can print and bind within five minutes a single copy any of over 500,000 titles on demand. They hope to increase the number of titles to one million by the end of the year. The machine, called “Espresso,” is the brainchild of American publisher Jason Epstein. Blackwell chief executive Andrew Hutchings says “I like to think of it as the revitalisation of the local bookshop industry.”

According to the report at, the machine can be seen:

printing over 100 pages a minute, clamping them into place, then binding, guillotining and spitting out the (warm as toast) finished article. The quality of the paperback was beyond dispute: the text clear, unsmudged and justified, the paper thick, the jacket smart….

[Espresso] cost Blackwell some $175,000, but the bookseller believes it will make this back in a year. “I do think this is going to change the book business,” said Phill Jamieson, Blackwell head of marketing. “It has the potential to be the biggest change since Gutenberg….

It would be fascinating to see the machine at work. And, if one were actually required to go to a bookshop, it might be as revolutionary as claimed. From my perspective, however, this attempt to salvage the Gutenberg Galaxy seems a lot like building the best horse carriage ever just after Henry Ford had started building cars by the thousands on an assembly line. My bet is that within five years’ time, half of the “book” business will be handled electronically online, declining another 50% every five years thereafter.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.

One thought on “Gutenberg Reprieve or Quixotic Extravagance?

  1. Not everyone is going to be computer savvy enough to do away with books entirely. There will always be technophobes who prefer their books the old fashioned way.

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