by Laura Garwood, Collaborative Editor

I recently toured I Street Press at Sacramento Public Library with my local EFA chapter. I was excited to tour because I had not yet seen the library’s famed Espresso Book Machine.

For those who don’t know, an Espresso Book Machine is a sort of print-on-demand vending machine that automatically makes books right before the user’s eyes. When I was in the book publishing master’s program at Portland State in 2005, we read a book forecasting that these machines were coming and would be the publishing method of the future. Many of us scoffed at the idea. So when I heard about the machines cropping up in Portland and Sacramento, I was amazed and excited!

Once we got to the library, a librarian named Gerald met us and took us on a tour. We started in the library’s Maker Room, its own intriguing spot, and that’s where he broke our hearts: the Espresso Book Machine was no longer with us.

Gerald expressed some grief at the loss—but also some relief. Apparently it really was like watching a miracle unfold, seeing the book take shape before your eyes behind the Plexiglas. However, the many complexities made the machine a maintenance nightmare and a money drain. The tiniest speck of glue on just the wrong sensor, for example, would cause the entire project to self-destruct, and the maintenance contract costs were through the roof.

Now, Gerald and his staff simply run a printing press based on their know-how, Gerald’s spreadsheets, and separate machines for trimming, printing, and binding. Gerald demonstrated the machine that can cut through an entire ream of paper and a perfect-binding machine that uses expensive glue but produces bindings that he proved he cannot tear apart. It was still fascinating to watch, and I found myself eager to leap forward and start slicing and gluing. (I refrained.) This process is cheaper and less maintenance heavy than the Espresso Book Machine, and it can produce color pages, unlike the automated machine.

In an era when Espresso Book Machines are increasingly abandoned by disappointed publishing visionaries, I Street Press prints books for people from Seattle to LA and Hawaii to Arkansas, Gerald boasted. The press is somewhat limited in that it cannot itself sell books online or ship. (That’s up to the author.) It also costs slightly more than producing a book using a larger online service. However, we all murmured that we would rather spend a little more at the library than on some of the corporate giants.

We left after I agreed to teach an upcoming editing class for I Street, as I enjoyed doing a few years ago. I enjoyed learning more about my local library’s printing press and felt eager to give it a whirl myself one of these days. Though Espresso Book Machines may be on their way out, print on demand seems to be here to stay.

I must say, however, that I felt disappointment in my heart at knowing I would likely never watch a book come together behind that Plexiglas.


Laura Garwood values editing and her clients enough that she will not mock you if you say you poured over your newspaper. But she does want to help you make your writing the best it can be, the utmost goal of editing. She has been known to say that editing is an art and a science, and she enjoys both aspects.