Amsterdam, the Espresso Book Machine, and Thoughtful Children’s Apps

Last weekend I had the chance to attend a conference in Amsterdam hosted by the Netherlands chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

The event was packed with interesting speakers and attendees from England, France, and Germany as well as the Netherlands. Highlights: writing workshops by Erzsi Deak and by fellow Vermont College alum Sarah Blake Johnson, a demo of the Espresso Book Machine, and news from the Wild West of app development for children and young adults. Here’s a write up of the conference by Mina Witteman, Dutch author and brave conference organizer. Thank you, Mina, for all your hard work!

The Espresso Book Machine is a new concept available in just a few locations, where you can print out high-quality paperback books on demand. The American Book Center in Amsterdam offered a demonstration to us.

As you see above, the machine itself looks like a computer attached to a very fancy printer with clear glass sides. It smells strongly of ink and glue. A video demo of it is viewable on the ABC website here (look down the right column for “ABC’s EBM in action”). In addition to printing the double-sided pages, the machine also trims and binds them and adds a cover. The result is very like what we call a trade paperback (high-quality-not-newsprint pages, with varying trim sizes).

The inside pages are all in black and white, but covers are printed in full color. If I recall correctly, there’s a 15 euro charge to use the machine and the books themselves cost around 15 euros a piece.

I wasn’t able to stick around long enough to hear much about the various applications of the machine. It’s a vehicle for self-published authors as well as traditional publishers and those seeking out-of-print books. It will be interesting to see how it fares in the current market, with all the changes going on in publishing.

What do you think? How would you use the EBM? Can it compete with e-books, or is it trying to? Is its target market the same or different from e-books?

I was also really intrigued by the work of the app developers who attended the conference. Apps for children weren’t something I had given much thought before. I thought apps in general were video games and personal organization tools, with maybe some room for animated children’s books.

Taking a look at the work of Omar Curriere and Sarah Towle gave me a whole new insight into the medium.

Omar’s company, OCG Studios, approached American illustrator Roxie Monroe with the idea of creating an ipad (and later iphone) app based on her intricate maze books. Ms. Monroe spent months creating original, hand-done artwork, and a team of six programmers spent three months developing the app. The result is frankly stunning. It’s part maze, part treasure hunt, part ABC game with a little car you can move with your finger—so cool! Check it out at the address linked above. There you’ll also find one of Roxie Monroe’s books turned into an app, which is a lot more intense a project than it might sound. It will be exciting to see what else OCG comes up with.

The other app developer I met was Sarah Towle, whose company, Time Traveler Tours, specializes in travel apps for students and their families or teachers. Her first offering, Beware Madame La Guillotine really blows my mind. It’s part book, part interactive travel guide, part scavenger hunt. I didn’t know an app could do all that. It definitely offers something that I have to admit the printed book can’t. I can’t wait to see what comes up with next.

12 thoughts on “Amsterdam, the Espresso Book Machine, and Thoughtful Children’s Apps

  1. I am so glad to hear that you had a good time at our conference, Emily! Hope to see you soon again at other SCBWI events, either here in Amsterdam, in Germany or elsewhere in the world.

  2. I watched the Espresso demo. Fascinating. I love seeing how manufacturing takes places so enjoyed watching it. Not sure if, or how, I’d use it. Maybe if I were stuck somewhere without a book to read and the machine was there begging me to make a book! Or if found some hard-to-get book available via Espresso.

    Going to SCBWI in Europe sounds like a dream. So glad you went.

      • Me too! So glad you stopped by. I’m sorry you couldn’t also attend. I was able to by last-minute luck. I just bought Beware Mme Guillotine yesterday so I look forward to exploring 🙂

    • Yes, I don’t know. I think e-books have their place, but there could be time when I really wanted a hard copy of something that I couldn’t get another way. I do prefer paper, but it would have to be something I’d pay a premium for. Generally that would be books that have high quality illustrations or photos, but at this point the EBM is not meant for that. I can see the out-of-print angle being enticing….

  3. i am a (german) librarian living in france and i know erzsi and via the twitter world also sarah! (hi! she brought me here!)
    was especially interested in the espresso book machine, i would say it cajnnot compete with e-books-we will see….

    • Wilkommen! Thank you for stopping by. Yes, I don’t think the EBM can compete with e-books exactly but maybe it is for a different market entirely? I don’t know. I’m very interested to see where it goes. The ABC EBM does get regular use, and our guide told us it had nearly paid for itself in the year since they installed it.

  4. Wow! Thanks Emily, and Angela, for the most delicious feedback!

    It was a great conference! I really enjoyed it a learned a lot!

    I’m delighted to tell you that the French-English bilingual version of Beware Mme la Guillotine will soon be released – I’m putting the final touches on the audio now. To celebrate, I have a few free downloads to offer you and your readers. The first 5 people to contact me (you can do so through my website) with the message, “Emily sent me!” will get a promo code good at any App Store worldwide. (Note: the app currently only runs on Apple devices: iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad).

    Happy creating all!

  5. Great info Emily. I had a great time and was also totally intrigued by both Omar and Sarah and their entry App-universe. incredibly inspiring 🙂 and so glad you made it to the conference. and I got to say hi and hang out a weensy bit. bis bald, kirsten

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