In St. Louis, of all places, a former automotive engineer invents a technology that could drastically alter the publishing industry.

The BookMachine is an automated device that can produce a soft-cover, perfect bound, standard-format book on customer demand within three to five minutes. Having finished with one title, it can proceed to another and another, as long as the machine is kept supplied with ink, toner, and paper-the same regular copy paper you might buy at Staples.

The machine’s potential is vast and deep. America’s beleaguered book industry is awash in waste, with retailers returning as much as 50 percent of their unsold inventory for full credit, costing publishers billions. The industry produces about 50,000 new titles each year, and without a precise metric for calculating demand, publishers must guess how many of each to print. Sometimes they guess wrong.