Google Books offers bizarre new media: the printed page

Every so often you’ll see a print-on-demand machine which is billed as changing the way publishing works. The dream is to be able to walk into a bookstore and quickly print off a copy of any book you like rather than be limited by what is currently in stock on the shelves.

That’s likely still some time off, but it’s a step closer thanks to a deal struck between one manufacturer and Google. The search giant has supplied On Demand Books with two million titles (PDF) from its digital books catalog, those being the titles which are no longer in copyright. (While the text itself is in the public domain, Google owns the rights to the scanned copies produced by its system, which is how it’s able to make such a deal.)

The agreement means that books will be available at a price set by the venue housing the printing machine, with a recommended price of $8 for the out-of-copyright titles. They’ll then pay a $1 royalty to New World Books, and $1 to Google (which will donate the cash to charities and non-profit groups.)

However, the machines are hardly ubiquitous: even after a planned expansion next year, there will only be 34 around the world. That’s largely because they cost $100,000 each, though a leasing program is available.

The catalog provided by Google could be expanding rapidly in the next few weeks. That’s because it’s awaiting court approval on a settlement with authors groups which would give it the rights to reproduce so-called “orphan books” which are in copyright but where the publisher and author either can’t be identified or traced. That proposal is proving controversial with critics arguing that it would amount to non-government groups rewriting copyright law.

The machines, dubbed Espresso Book Machines, already offer some copyrighted titles, plus the ability to print PDF files in book form.

By the way, if anyone from On Demand Books is reading, can we suggest your sales staff get in touch with Cushing Academy, the prep school we recently featured when it decided to switch to an all-electronic library?

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