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University of Alaska Fairbanks unveils book-making machine

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Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 12:25 am | Updated: 12:07 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — With a flood of e-books entering the publishing world, the University of Alaska Fairbanks has purchased a device that combines a digital database with a traditional literary model.

The Espresso Book Machine looks like a mammoth photocopier, but it’s more like a high-tech literary vending machine. Users can pick from 3.3 million titles, which are converted on the spot into a bound paperback book.

EBM can crank out about 100 pages per minute, with a maximum book size of 500 pages. Once the pages are printed, a 350-degree glue binds it together between a cover. From beginning to end, the process takes 5 minutes or less, said the bookstore’s EBM communications manager, Kevin Lawson.

The UAF College of Rural and Community Development Bookstore is using the roughly $100,000 machine to create a new way to distribute books. Publications can vary from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to “The Roots of Ticasuk,” with the occasional batch of course catalogs thrown in.

Although the share of

e-books in the publishing market continues to grow, Lawson said there’s still a place for traditional paper books. He said national surveys show that e-books are prized for their convenience, but readers of all generations still are attached to paper books.

“We’re actually seeing that e-books aren’t nearly as popular as people think,” Lawson said. “I think almost everyone still prefers a hard-bound book, to be honest.”

Having a machine than can produce a variety of books on the spot also brings some advantages, bookstore manager MaryAlice Short said. There’s no need to have a warehouse full of books waiting to be sold, and the shipping cost of sending those books to rural campuses in Alaska is less when they originate from Fairbanks. Short said she expects the EBM to pay for itself through those savings.

Short said the EBM machines are fairly common on Lower 48 campuses, but it’s the only such device in Alaska. Books typically cost between $10 and $20.

Lawson said it’s also helped with the preservation of Alaska Native books that are in danger of going out of print. A book from the Dillingham area, “Yup’ik Eskimo Orthography,” had only two remaining books before EBM was able to create about 100 more copies.

UAF has had the EBM since April, but the bookstore intentionally kept its profile low until employees learned how to use the device and manage any potential glitches.

Since the machine began producing books, it’s created more than 1,250 publications.

Now the bookstore is ready to unveil it to a larger audience, including the book-buying public. She and Lawson have begun offering presentations to faculty groups touting the benefit of using EBM for publishing textbooks.

“We want more people to know about it,” Lawson said.

A database of available books is at www.ondemandbooks.com, and publications at Google Books also can be printed on the EBM machine. Few current bestsellers are available, but numerous older books can be ordered, including out-of-print selections.

The availability of the EBM may be checked by calling 474-7711.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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