Print-on-demand experiments

Two Essays On Books: Republished from the internet

Designed in 2 hours, printed in 4.5 minutes
McNally Jackson, Prince St NYC

Writing, illustrating, designing and printing a book in a week was a great challenge – see the Ed-werd Rew-shay project – but while in NYC, I figured I should up the pace. This project is a book I conceived of before breakfast and printed before lunch.

The espresso book machine boasts being able to print a book in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee. I set myself the challenge of designing a book in the time it took to have a cup of coffee, then print it in the time it took to make another cup.

Above is an iPhone panorama photograph of the McNally Jackson bookstore. Forgive the poor quality photographic documentation; I travel light and only have an iPhone and laptop to work with. Although obviously distorted this shows: from the left where the bookshop starts, the book machine in the centre and the cafe to the right.

I convinced Jacob, one of the staff who operates the book machine, to allow me to do this project. Out of respect to him and the store, I need to stress that this is not how the McNally Jackson service works. Normally, you send files in advance, have them checked then placed in the queue to be printed; generally a 2-3 day turn around. My process was allowed because it is a special research project specifically interested in the machine itself, I know how to set up files for print so little pre-press was needed, and it was done on top of my booking to print the Ed-werd Rew-shay book. It’s worth noting that 2-3 days is still significantly quicker than using an online print-on-demand service – Lulu is 5 working days, Blurb is 2-3 weeks (occasionally faster depending on the format and luck).

I’d planned to come up with the content for the book the night before, but I was up late finishing the Ed-werd book, so at 7am in the shower before heading to the bookstore, I decided to take an essay from the column I write for The Conversation as the content for the book. A feature of The Conversation is that anyone can republish articles, as long as they provide appropriate credit.

I set up my laptop in the cafe (which opens before the main bookstore) and by 9.15am had pulled the essay from The Conversation and set up an InDesign file. Then InDesign quit twice – a first for my laptop – and the cafe does not have wifi so I had to use my Australian phone as a hotspot to download the essay. Jumpy start, time wasted.

I spent a good 15 minutes stripping out all the html before deciding it was much better with the html, to indicate that the essay was originally published online. There’s something interesting about the idea of taking an essay written specifically for an online publication and reprinting it as a physical book. I wanted that evident in the final work. Once I’d started again with the html included, I realised that the minimum extent for these books is 40 pages and mine was only 27. I added another of my essays from The Conversation to flesh it out. They’re a nice pair. The first is titled ‘What is a Book in the Digital Age?’ and the second ‘Shelf Promotion: How everyone can be a publisher with print-on-demand books’.

The problem with research is you can get swallowed into a meta-world … my first book was an artist’s book made in response to Ed Ruscha’s artist’s books. This is a book about print-on-demand allowing you to self-publish, self-published on a print-on-demand machine. I love and hate this equally.

So, as written in the book:

The idea for this book come to me at 7.12am, in the shower.
I thought about it on the train from Fort Greene (Brooklyn) to Prince Street (Manhattan). 30ish minutes.
I designed it between 9.18 and 10.42am, in the coffee shop of McNally Jackson, 52 Prince Street New York City.
It was printed shortly after. A book, from start to finish before morning tea time. What a brilliant thing.

I sent the file to Jacob at 11.15am, exactly 2 hours after setting up. After the pre-press (roughly 20 minutes – the job has to be logged via a written form, then on the laptop, the laptop talks to the computer in the machine to figure out page extent and cover size, then both cover and internal pages files need to be checked, etc), the machine spat a warm little book out at 11.45.

This video explains how the espresso book machine works, filmed at the McNally Jackson bookstore where I produced my two books in NYC: