The Washington Post

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.

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.


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