Published: Sunday, December 19, 1999
Austin American-Statesman

A Giant Step for the Little Eakin Press

By Anne Morris

On a foggy, wet Saturday, when roads were bumper to bumper with holiday shoppers, Ed Eakin hosted an open house for his space-age book-manufacturing machine. Eakin—proprietor of Eakin press, the pokey little Oak Hill publishing house—isn't the sort of fellow who comes to mind when you think of cutting-edge technology. He's always seemed the leisurely type—a good-hearted fellow taking the trouble to print and reprint unusual books by Texas writers.

It turns out Eakin has a history of derring-do.

"I'm an old newspaper man," Eakin said, "and back in the early 1960s, in Wichita Falls, I had the first web offset press in North Texas, and it really opened doors. You know, the weekly papers pioneered those, while the dailies were still using the old linotype machines. We started doing books and other newspapers. I haven't been that excited in a long time. Not until now."

The reason for his current excitement: the installation of the BookBuilderOne, the first on-demand press of its kind in the country. Now that he's worked out all the bugs, Eakin will be able to print one or more copies of a book inexpensively—a 250-page book in about five minutes. Until the BookBuilder came along, publishers could only afford to print a book if they had a sizable press run—say, 5,000 copies. Now, thanks to digitalization, a book need never go out of print.

Those who arrived around midday Dec. 11 at the press's open house saw a yellow cab pull up and a portly white-haired, white-mustachioed fellow in a black wool suit get out. Just in from St. Louis, it was Harvey Ross, inventor of the press whirring in the backroom that spit out $9.95 paperback copies of Bert Wall's Texas Hill Country ghost stories, "The Devil's Backbone." The advantage of BookBuilder One is that it's relatively inexpensive. The model Eakin bought cost under $100,000—considerably cheaper than existing models of the Lightning Press, which cost close to a million dollars. (A small BookBuilder is planned for installation in retail stores.)

Bruce Baebler, who demonstrated the press during the open house, built books, while reporters from the Washington Post and Dallas Morning News looked on. Even when a software glitch stopped production for a while, Ross and Baebler remained upbeat. Ross' career has been in creating "large, complex systems." A temporary problem doesn't faze him. Then again, not much does.


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