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With Espresso Book Machine, R.J. Julia About To Become Faster Than Amazon

Why wait for it overnight when you can have it now? That's the promise of a new machine being installed this week at RJJ. Now, there's one less reason to order from Amazon.com and one more reason for readers and writers to frequent the store.

An Espresso Book Machine was just installed at on Tuesday. If this print-on-demand machine works as intended, a wide range of great books will soon be available, instantly.

"Now, you will not have to go to Amazon for those obscure titles that we have never carried," said Branford resident Roxanne Coady, R. J. Julia's owner. "Nothing is faster than instant. It'll give us access to a wide range of titles that are on Amazon, only they are instantly printed out."

Coady said initially many of the books available will be out-of-print books. "But, increasingly, publishers will be putting their entire back list on this. That is not true now, but that will happen. And, of the books that are available now, any book you want, we can print for you in minutes. So that gives us an advantage over Amazon."

New machine will supplement current offerings

Coady said R. J. Julia will continue to stock books as it always has stocked books, that the mix in the store is not likely to change any time soon. But the titles on the shelves will be supplemented by a wide range of offerings not available now, or available now only in smaller quantities.

Books available through the Espresso Book Machine at the Brooklyn Public Library in Brooklyn, NY, which is similar to the one going online in Madison, include titles from Poet Laureates Joseph Brodsky, Donald Hall, Philip Levine; and from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Gary Wills, David Remnick, Richard Rhodes; and from Nobel Prize winning novelists Mario Vargas Llosa, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Wole Soyinka, William Golding, Elias Canetti, Czeslaw Milosz, Isaac Bashevis Singer. The latest in romance and erotica titles from publisher Ellora's Cave were a recent addition to the Espresso Book Machine line up.

Some older titles that are available, according to the company website, include the following: 

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground — the original manuscript on which the classic story was based, handwritten by Lewis Caroll as a Christmas gift for the real Alice. The Bay Psalm Book — the first book (that is still in existence) printed in British North America in 1640. Proust in the original French! Most of the EBM’s Public Domain content comes from the Google Books database. In addition, we can also print titles from the Internet Archive, Gallica, and Project Gutenberg.

Coady said these books will be available in any quantities needed.

EBM will help bookstore connect with writers

"So, this this for an example. Say a book ... is assigned by a school. But the school doesn't tell us that the entire Ninth Grade is reading this book. So now we have 15 people wanting it. If it's available on the Espresso Book Machine, we can print it out," she said. 

Coady said that, in addition to well-known titles, the Espresso Book Machine will serve as an easy and convenient way for new authors and self-published authors to distribute their work.

"The other part of the business which, I think, will be really exciting, is that we have always been a place for readers," Coady said. "I think this will give us an opportunity to be a place for readers and writers. We've always welcomed authors. But if we can start to develop a set of services and programs about how to write a memoir, how to do marketing, how to self-publish, that will be very exciting. We can put together a group of people and editors, and I think that's a very exciting role we can add to our community."

Opus, an EBM in Washington, DC, is working extremely well

Bill Leggett says that's exactly what's happened at the independent bookstore Politics & Prose, in Washington, DC, which has an Espresso Book Machine that is nicknamed Opus. Leggett, the Opus operator, says the machine was installed in November of 2011 and, over the past few months, has been printing out about 1,000 books a month. "And August is kind of a quiet month in DC, so we expect that to pick up," he said.

"It's going really, really well," he said. "Overall it's terrific."

Leggett said Coady's plan to connect writers and readers is right on the mark. "The majority of units that are printed out are self-published. They're poetry, memoir, novels and a lot of people printing posthumous books, books written by loved ones that weren't published during their lifetime."

Serving as a hub for authors and readers

Leggett said the Espresso Book Machine at Politics and Prose has printed out about 200 self-published titles. "And about 90 percent of those are written by local authors," he said. He said Politics & Prose, like R. J. Julia, has long been a hub for authors and readers, "but this is an extension of that."

He said the machine works well and that the quality of the books is high. "It's hard to distinguish it from a paperback on the shelf," he said.

Politics & Prose is one of about 80 locations internationally that have an Espresso Book Machine. Other locations include Powell's Books in Portland, OR, Third Place Books in Seattle, WA, the Blackwell Bookstore in London, England, and there are three in Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt.

On Tuesday, two men from On Demand Books, which makes the machine, were busy installing it at R. J. Julia, in the back of the store where titles from local authors are featured. Patrick Lankford, vice president of operations for On Demand Books, said he is excited about the wide range of books offered, and the high quality of the books.

Printed books as a "badge of honor" and, for some, an easier way to learn

Lankford, from Wichita, KS, talks eloquently about his love for printed books, the way they look, the way they feel, the way they smell.

He notes that printed books, stacked on a shelf in someone's home, are often considered by readers as a "badge of honor" and are often well-loved and re-read time and again. He also noted that many men, in particular, are tactile learners who benefit from having a hard copy available so they can hold, mark-up, and dog-ear the pages.

"I was like that in college," said Greg Nothhard, a field service engineer from On Demand Books who was working with Lankford Tuesday setting up the Espresso Book Machine at R. J. Julia. Northhard, who is based out of Rochester, NY, said "I had to have something in my hand to learn."

Ribbon cutting planned for Sept. 29. And news about a buyer for the bookstore soon?

Northard and Lankford said the Espresso Book Machine will be tested later this week and, if all goes well, it should go live in early September. Coady said a ribbon-cutting party is planned for Sept. 29.

Coady said that by then she may also have news about who might be buying the store, which is up for sale. She has said in the past that she has had expressions of interest from people who have experience running a bookstore, and she has had expressions of interest from people who have money. She said she is now trying to act as a matchmaker between those parties.

"I should know more in a few weeks," she said. "Right now we are busy booking fall events. We have some great things planned that we'll be able to announce soon. We have a lot going on. We're happy and busy."

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