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Google digital books can turn into paperbacks

Published on 18/09/2009

Washington – More than two million books in the public domain can be turned into instant paperbacks under a deal announced on Thursday between Google and the company behind a high-speed book-printing machine.

Google, which is scanning millions of out-of-copyright books as part of its controversial book project, signed an agreement with On Demand Books that will give the maker of the Espresso Book Machine access to public domain titles.

Like its name implies, the Espresso Book Machine can print and bind a library-quality paperback book with a full-colour cover in about the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee.

"In a matter of minutes you can get a paperback book identical to one you can get in a store," On Demand Books chief executive and co-founder Dane Neller said. "A 300-page book can be done in about four, four-and-a-half minutes."

Neller said Google’s digital catalogue of public domain books — works published for the most part before the 1920s — is "rich in all sorts of subjects."

"Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Rousseau, Hugo, Balzac… you name it," he said. "The beauty of this is that it goes from the classics to the obscure and in between.

"Yesterday we printed a book on leaves," he said. "We printed a book on how to make candy from the early 20th century."

Jason Epstein, On Demand Books chairman and fellow co-founder, described the machine, which was named one of Time Magazine’s "Best Inventions of 2007" and costs less than USD 100,000 (EUR 68,000 , CHF103,000) , as "an ATM for books".

"With the Google inventory the Espresso Book Machine will make it possible for readers everywhere to have access to millions of digital titles in multiple languages, including rare and out of print public domain titles," he said.

Espresso Book Machines are currently located in bookstores and libraries in more than a dozen locations in five countries — the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and Egypt.

Current locations include the Angus and Robertson Bookstore in Melbourne, the McGill University Library in Montreal, the Blackwell Bookshop in London, Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the internet Archive in San Francisco and the University of Michigan.

Neller said the New York-based On Demand Books hoped to have between 35 to 40 Espresso machines in place around the world by early 2010 and was planning on coming out with a full-colour model in about six months.

Currently only the cover of a book is reproduced in colour.

Public domain books in Google’s digital library can currently be read online for free and printed out as a PDF document. They are also available on devices such as Sony’s electronic reader.

"Reading digital books can be an enjoyable experience, but we realize that there are times when readers want a physical copy of a book," said Brandon Badger, a Google product manager.

Neller said On Demand Books will not set the retail price for the public domain books from Google’s digital library but was recommending USD 8 as the suggested listed price.

He said the cost to produce a book — the paper, the ink, the glue — comes out to under a penny a page, or slightly less than USD 3 for a 300-page book.

"A dollar goes to us, a dollar goes to Google for providing the digital copy," Neller said, adding that the internet search and advertising giant intends to give the money earned to public charities.

Neller also said the legal settlement between Google and US authors and publishers "doesn’t affect us at all" because the agreement with On Demand Books only concerns out-of-copyright works.

A US District Court in New York is to hold a hearing on the settlement on 7 October and the project is also being examined by anti-trust lawyers at the US Justice Department, which has until Friday to voice its opinion.

The governments of France and Germany, privacy groups, consumer advocates and rival technology companies such as Amazon, maker of the Kindle electronic reader, and Microsoft have filed objections to the settlement agreement.

AFP / Expatica