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Big Ideas, Small Printers

Print is dead, long live print.

By / Posted on 02 December 2011

The combination of electronic media and a continuously poor economy have slowly suffered large chunks of the once-omnipotent print media to their unforeseen deaths. Newspapers are being replaced by blogs, books by e-readers even printed instruction manuals for videogames have been replaced by tedious in-game tutorials. Much like vinyl records and analog photography, though, print will never truly die, bound to be embraced by artists and appreciated as objects more than the ephemera they were before.

Case in point, the Espresso Book Machine. With book retailer Borders shuttered and only-game-in-town Barnes and Noble devoting more and more of its floor space for demos of its nook e-reader and book-themed novelty items (see Daniel Clowes’ cover illustration for the current New Yorker, at right) it seems like physical books are all but disappearing in the retail environment. On Demand Books, LLC* creates and distributes their Espresso Book Machines as modern personal printing presses. Independent book sellers and college campuses around the globe have brought in Espresso Book Machines so that their customers can have access to library-quality paperbacks of out-of-print or otherwise hard-to-find volumes on an individual basis, without having to order cases of books that will sit around unsold.

For college bookstores, the Espresso Book Machine means never running out of textbooks. For indie book stores, it means never selling out of the classics. Better yet, for self-publishers or aspiring writers, the Espresso Book Machine also accepts cd-roms and USB drives to print their own files with their own designs. In a matter of minutes, the machine prints and binds a paperback of nearly any size with black-and-white interiors, color cover, and a perfect signature binding. For rising authors pitching their first manuscript to a publisher, printing their manuscript on the EBM is the equivalent of getting professionally-designed business cards as opposed to printing at home in Microsoft Word. It’s not going to completely replace the publishing process, but it’s a huge leg-up in getting noticed.

Berg Little PrinterTaking the concept of print-on-demand in an even more personal direction is London design studio Berg’s debut product, the Little Printer. This adorable little box sits in your home and prints a daily slip of personalized information for its owners. Specifically designed with to-do lists, news headlines and daily puzzles in mind, papers from the Little Printer seem dead-set on replacing the morning newspaper by focusing the user’s specific interests into a tiny slip of dense and well-designed ephemera, a friendly “good morning” waiting next to your morning cup of tea with a rundown of all the things that are important to you today before you’re even functionally awake, ready to be folded and slipped into your pocket or tacked to the wall next to your desk.

The Berg Little Printer uses thermal receipt paper, like the stuff you get at most groceries and pharmacies, so there’s no ink to replace or worry about, and the focus on clean monotone graphics promises to bridge the gap between lithography of yore and modern pixel art. Most importantly, the Little Printer itself operates via wi-fi with no real interface. All of the work is done in the cloud via the free Berg app on the user’s iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. While the Little Printer is still a few months away from being available to the public, it already promises to deliver customized daily content from friends’ foursquare check-ins, the National Maritime Museum, Nike+ runs and Diesel Sweeties comic strips, among others. All content is streamed from RSS feeds, which means the entire static (non-audio/video) content of the internet could eventually be made available for Little Printer.

Espresso Book Machine and Little Printer — these two products both promise cost-effective manners of taking our increasingly electronic media consumption and transforming it into tangible paper objects, personalized and unique. The happy ground where analog and digital meet and the consumer smiles and sips their tea at ease because the line between the two has blurred so charmingly.

gotta love any company abbreviated to ODB

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.