Google + Espresso = lots of instant (old) books

If, every time you walk into a bookstore these days, you get an odd feeling that the earth is shifting beneath your feet, all that means is that you're paying attention. The business is changing so fast that it's hard to imagine how anyone is keeping up.

The latest new wrinkle: Google Book Search has done a deal with On Demand Books, the people who make the Espresso Book Machine. Already, Espresso was in the business of cranking out bound books in about 4 minutes (that's how long a 300-page book would take) for a cost of about $3 to the retailer.

But what the deal with Google does is to add about 2 million public-domain titles to the mix.

So, to borrow an example from Wired, a reader looking for a copy of "Dame Curtsey's Book of Candy Making" (the third edition of which was published in 1920 and a used copy of which can be found online for $47) can stop into Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vt., and, for less than $10, custom-order a copy and leave with it a few minutes later.

The Espresso machine costs about $100,000 so your corner bookstore may not have one – at least, not yet. And of course there are limits to what it can provide. (The hotly debated out-of-print but still under copyright titles that Google has scanned will not be part of the deal.)

But public domain books (older books whose copyright has expired) are big business. On Demand Books told Wired that they are betting that "in the future, every old book will have 15 readers."

Readers like me who live in Boston will only have to wait two weeks till the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge (a privately owned shop, not connected to the university) begins offering the service. And then, those of us too busy to stop by the store to pick the book up in person, can request "green" delivery by bicycle – definitely a case of the best of new technology learning to work with the best of the old.

(Chapter & Verse readers are reminded that they can access the Monitor's 9/15/09 Books podcast either through iTunes or by clicking here.)

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