Among the readerly wonders of the Inspire News Cafe — along with the selection of magazines it can be hard to find in Vegas — there sits the Espresso Book Machine Z-2000. Okay, there's no "Z-2000" in its name; I mentally add that because, for someone who's spent his life gathering books the normal way — "forgetting" to return them to libraries — there's an indelibly futuristic quality to the notion of whipping one up with the push of a button, like a smoothie. You select a book from the menu, pay the appropriate amount, and watch the darned thing assemble the volume for you right there. It's one of the technology-driven changes shaking up the previously staid world of book-delivery, along with e-books and who knows what else. It won't be long until we're vaping Dickens.
But what, we wondered, are people actually printing out on the Espresso Book Machine? After all, there are millions of books available, from classics in the public domain to volumes made available by publishers willing to try this new avenue of distribution. Are there any trends?
Says Drew Cohen, co-operator of the machine (with partner Scott Seeley), "The majority of our print business has been self-publishing, rather than purchases from the commercial catalogue." No surprise, I suppose, and not just because Generation Selfie is ascendant now — for writers of any vintage loitering outside publishing's traditional farm system, their pile of rejection slips growing, it must be encouraging to finally be able to hold an actual physical copy of your book, to give it to friends, to (maybe!) sell a few copies, to mail some to reluctant book-review editors.
Which isn't to say there haven't been sales from the commercial catalogue, and, as it happens, among those there is a curious trend.
"This makes sense," Cohen says, "given that we're sandwiched between mixology bars — among the commercial books, we've discovered that cocktail books have been some of the most popular. We've sold multiples of Just Cocktails: A Bartender's Guide, a gem originally compiled and edited by W.C. Whitfield in 1939. It has lots of goofy illustrations. And then The Café Royal Cocktail Book, originally of 1937, has closely followed. Used copies of these books sell for over $50, so they are great examples of the sort of thing you can find for much cheaper on the Machine. One of our bartenders at Inspire actually bought 10 copies of Just Cocktails in one go."
So, Drew, what are your top three sellers?
"Our top 3 sellers: (1) Just Cocktails: A Bartender's Guide; (2) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass; (3) The Café Royal Cocktail Book."
If you're like me, you're thinking, I really SHOULD return Alice in Wonderland to the library. But also, I wonder what other books I can finally get my hands on.