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Initially, most of the demand on the Espresso Book Machine was for Google-scanned books (sold at first for a flat promotional fee of $8 a book; the store now utilizes page-based pricing). Since then, a large market for printing self-published books has opened up, prompting the creation of a separate section of the store and website dedicated to titles published on the premises. Local customers can order books to be printed and delivered by bicycle, which gets books in their hands faster than Amazon could, and has the added benefit of being eco-conscious.
The machine has been a huge draw—even a tour stop for visiting foreign students—and a marketing tool as well. A contest to name the machine produced the sobriquet Paige M. Gutenborg. "We lovingly refer to her as Paige," Mayersohn says.
John Conley, vice president of publishing at Xerox, which distributes the Espresso Book Machine, says the combination of on-demand, short- and ultra-short run printing is "changing the inventory dynamic" for booksellers.
"With these technologies, publishers have the flexibility to print what they need to meet the demands of booksellers and their customers without creating excess inventory for bookstores with limited space," he says.
As energy prices continue to rise, the savings made possible by reduced shipping and storage demands also benefit retailers, he adds.
"I bought the store with a particular vision, of which Paige is an important component," Mayersohn says. "I began to realize that the digitization of books, which many people argue is a problem for independent bookstores … was going to be an asset for independent bookstores, because all of a sudden we could have an inventory that rivaled the inventory of our largest online competitors. So the day we got Paige, we essentially added 4 million books to our inventory without the associated inventory expense, obviously, and without the requirement to warehouse 4 million books."