Digital library: This Paris store prints books on demand in 5 min
Paris: Gauthier Charrier, a student, stepped inside one of Paris’s newest bookstores and wondered, “Where are all the books?”
“I saw this empty, open space — just a couple of stools — and I wondered, ‘Did someone mess up?’” Charrier said. None messed up. The pronounced stock shortage inside the Librairie des Puf, run by the publisher University Press of France, or Les Puf for short, is not the result of an ordering mistake, but the heart of the shop’s business model.
There are books, but they are not delivered in advance from wholesalers. They are printed on request, before the customer’s very eyes, on an Espresso Book Machine. On Demand Books, the company that manufactures the machine, chose the name as a nod to an activity you can complete in the five minutes it takes to print a book: Have a quick coffee.
Labelled, not so modestly, the “Gutenberg press of the 21st century” by its creators, the machine sits in a back corner of the shop, humming as it turns PDFs into paperbacks. Customers use tablets to select the titles for print — adding, if they want to, their own handwritten inscriptions — while sipping coffee in the light and airy storefront in the Latin Quarter of Paris. “The customers are all surprised,” said the shop’s director, Alexandre Gaudefroy. “At first, they’re a little uncomfortable with the tablets. After all, you come to a bookshop to look at books. But thanks to the machine and the tablets, the customer holds a digital library in their hands.”
Gaudefroy said, “I don’t have to worry about space for the stock and I can offer readers as many titles as I want.” And that is a lot of titles. All 5,000 books published by Les Puf are available, as well as an additional three million books compiled by On Demand Books, including titles from 10 large American publishers and the public domain.
Les Puf ’s prestige in the industry has helped it secure even more titles. “What’s really exciting is that, thanks to the on-demand model, we can revive old titles, which we previously hadn’t bothered with because they’d only sell five or 10 copies in a year,” Mr. Gaudefroy said. “On-demand, it’s a new economy for us.”
NO STORAGE TENSION: Books at the Librairie des Puf are printed on request, before the customer’s very eyes, on an Espresso Book Machine