Paris Bookstore Replaces Its Stock of Books With an Espresso Book Machine

Bookstores like Third Place Books and Harvard Book Store have long used POD equipment such as the Espresso Book Machine to supplement their stock of print books, and now one French bookstore is taking that idea to extremes.

The AP reports, and Les Echos confirms, that publisher Presses Universitaires de France has opened a new bookstore in Paris where you won’t be able to buy any of the books on the shelf, nor will you be able to order a copy from the warehouse.

Instead, customers can browse the books and request a POD copy of the books. The shop relies on an Espresso Book Machine to print books for customers. Vaguely resembling a photocopiers which had had botched reconstructive surgery, an Espresso Book Machine can produce a paperback book in just four to seven minutes.

“In the meantime, readers can enjoy a cup of coffee from the shop at a reasonable price,” says Alexandre Gaudefroy, who has managed the PUF project since its inception. “The idea was to create a tea room and a bookshop at the same time.”

The machine in the PUF bookshop can produce any of 5,000 titles from the PUF catalog as well as any of three million titles from other publishers whose works have been added to the catalog of OnDemand Books, the machine’s maker.

PUF CEO Frederic Meriot described this as the first of its kind in France, but that’s not quite true. “This is the first all-digital bookshop in Europe that sells books on demand only,” Meriot told the AP. “It is a model for the future, a model in which digital and paperback books can work together.”

So far as I know this is actually the first bookstore of its kind anywhere in the world. While the idea of using a POD machine as the sole source of books in a bookstore was first proposed by an author and publisher seven years ago, PUF is the first bookstore to implement the idea.

Previously, bookstores had added a POD machine to their stock of commercially published books but did not use it to completely replace the traditional suppliers.

The PUF model had never been tried before possibly because it runs contrary to the usual assumptions of how a bookstore is run. This is not a store like the newly-opened Libraria in London where you can browse a selection of tens of thousands of titles. Instead, a customer has to have a good idea what they are looking for before entering the store.

PUF is unique in that regard, and they’re going to be the first to benefit from the cost savings. Meriot noted that by not carrying so many copies in the store, PUF was able to reduce the size of the store as well as the rent. He also expects PUF’s bottom line to benefit from the reduced number of returns.

“Not only because at an equivalent price all readers, even among the young generations, prefer paper to digital,” he said. “But also in terms of costs for us. We could not have afforded to rent a 600-square-meter (6,450-square-foot) shop like we had in the past. With the Espresso Book, we don’t need warehouses to stock the books, we don’t spend money to pulp the books already printed that didn’t sell, and it’s also a low-carbon way of making books.”

Meriot estimated that he needs to sell about 15 books a day to break even. He sold 60 on the opening day of business earlier this month. “It was almost a riot, our booksellers didn’t even find the time to take a break for lunch,” he said.

image via Les Echos