Arts Post
Posted at 04:41 PM ET, 11/10/2011

Print-on-demand publishing comes to Washington

Local readers and writers packed into Politics & Prose on Wednesday night for the official launch of “Opus,” Washington’s first print-on-demand Espresso book machine. It’s one of only a handful operating in independent bookstores worldwide.

“I think you have to go to New York, or as far west as Michigan, or as far south as the Dominican Republic to find another,” Politics & Prose co-owner Bradley Graham said.
Customers at Politics & Prose bookstore watch the new “Opus” print-on-demand machine produce a book. (John Wilwol/The Washington Post)

The machine, which looks like a laptop strapped to a bank of photocopiers, was developed by OnDemand Books and fine-tuned by Xerox. It can turn a digital file into a trade-quality paperback, complete with color cover art, in five to 10 minutes.

Graham emphasized the machine’s ability to help Politics & Prose serve the local community.

That’s a sentiment echoed by Thor Sigvaldason, co-founder and chief technology officer of OnDemand Books. “It’s print local, read local,” he said. “There’s something to small things that’s important to a community and a culture.”

Having signed a five-year lease on Opus, the store is now better equipped to compete with juggernauts like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If Politics & Prose doesn’t “have the book you’re looking for, it’s no longer, ‘We can order it for you,’” Sigvaldason said. “Now it’s, ‘We can print it for you right here in a few minutes.’” Customers will pay retail for books that are still in print. Out-of-print titles on which the copyright has expired will cost $8 for the first 200 pages, and $2 per 100 pages after that. 

But writers who want to self-publish seem to be the machine’s biggest fans. “Everywhere we put one of these things,” Sigvaldason said, “we get people with a special glint in their eye saying, ‘Can you make my book?’”

If you can provide Opus with a digital copy — and you’re willing to pay a set-up fee, plus a $7 flat rate per book, plus $.02 per page — the answer is yes.

Customers at Politics & Prose said they liked the idea of having access to out-of-print and hard-to-find books, while others said they’ll use Opus to make holiday gifts, such as a book of recipes or a family history.

Bill Wade and Susan Elnicki Wade, self-published co-authors of “Crab Decks and Tiki Bars of the Chesapeake Bay,” live within walking distance of the bookstore. “Now, if we have a book signing in Annapolis, and we need a small, quick run, we can run up here and get them right away.”

John Wilwol is a Washington area writer.

By John Wilwol  |  04:41 PM ET, 11/10/2011

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