For some bookstores, particularly those that serve university campuses, it’s just not possible to have everything they might need in stock at all times; not only is it a financial impossibility, space is another thing to consider. As a result these sellers have to find a way to remain competitive with online services and some, like the Harvard Book Store, have adopted print-on-demand equipment to supplement their stock. These machines give customers access to millions of books online and allow them to print a physical copy in a matter of minutes.
Now a book shop in Paris has gone past merely supplementing their physical stock and has decided to replace it entirely with an Espresso Book Machine. The shop is run by publisher Les Presses Universitaires de France and can be found in the Latin Quarter of the city. Though there are a few books on the shelves in the shop (it really wouldn’t feel like a bookstore without them) these titles aren’t for sale. Instead, customers can use tablets to search through 3 million titles for the one they’re looking for and have it printed and bound in around 4-7 minutes for no more than they would usually pay for the book. The only limitations on the books are that they have to be under 850 pages and in black and white, though the cover will be in colour. The catalogue of books includes 5000 titles published by PUF themselves, as well as some from Google Books, Harper Collins, Penguin, US site Ingram and a dozen others.
Offering this service is a really great way to keep the physical bookshop alive and it’s a sign that the rise of digital does not necessarily mean the death of the paperback. Not only does on-demand printing allow shops to have a stock size which competes with online sellers as well as a faster delivery time, they don’t have to pay for the large rental space, or the warehouse to store the books, and nor do they have to find a way to deal with stock that they didn’t manage to sell. The printing press revolutionised book production in the 15th century, now the bookstores are adapting to the digital revolution.