Print your own book at Politics & Prose

December 15, 2011

Linguaphiles, bookworms, aspiring authors and their gift-seeking friends now have another reason to visit Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington’s temple to all things literary.

Its name is Opus, and it gives the phrase “hot off the press” a whole new meaning.

Opus is an Espresso Book Machine, or EBM. It prints paperback books on demand, and it draws from a catalog of several million out-of-print or hard-to-find books in a variety of languages. It can also print books from PDF files that customers bring in. This means you can actually publish that novel that has been gathering dust in your desk. Or that senior thesis you’re particularly proud of. Or an epic poem about the wonders of cheese puffs. Or your sister’s diary. Or, well, just about anything.

“We’re helping customers who can’t get a book ordinarily walk in the door and walk out with a book,” says Bill Leggett, one of the bookstore’s two full-time staff members dedicated entirely to working with Opus. “And more to the point, people in the community who want to share their ideas — share their imagination — we can help them do that.”

Opus is one of only about 80 such machines in the world. It was brought to the Connecticut Avenue NW store by new owners, husband-and-wife duo (and former Washington Post journalists) Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine, who had seen EBMs at other high-profile bookstores across the country and were intrigued by their capabilities.

Wander back to the bookstore’s fiction room, and you can’t miss Opus’s gigantic, hulking mass. The contraption looks like an oversize copy machine with a chute at the bottom for the finished book. Its walls are clear, so you can easily see each turning gear and whirring page.

To print a book, all you need to do is choose your title from the catalog, or upload your PDFs (one black-and-white for the text of the book and one black-and-white or color PDF for the cover) with the help of either of the store’s two Opus specialists. If you need assistance converting a file to a PDF, formatting the text or designing a cover, the specialists can help, but you’ll pay $99 for that service.

Then, sit back and watch as the pages get sucked into the machine from one end and the cover starts processing from the other. They meet in the middle, a glue pot sprays the cover, the text is compressed onto it, blades trim the paper down and voila! In just about five minutes, your finished book pops into the chute, ready for reading.

The future of the book may be constantly called into question by the proliferation of e-books and tablets. But Opus reminds us that books are still relevant.

“There’s still a place for the physical book,” says Leggett. “And it can be right here in five minutes. Real books in real time.”

Where is it? Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-364-1919. politics-prose.com.

When can I do it? Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Sunday-Monday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

How much is it? Printing a book from your own file, $27 and 2 cents per page. Printing a book from the catalog, $8 for books up to 200 pages long.

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