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

puf pod espresso book machineBookstores 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


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Mackay Bell March 21, 2016 um 3:18 pm

I don’t know if this particular bookstore is going to work, but this is something that will eventually become part of the publishing landscape. A big part? Probably not. But at least a part.

What I love about POD is it ruins all these silly arguments about how self-publishing is all about ebooks and how important it is to protect traditional publishing for the sake of printed books. Self-publishing has nothing to do with the argument about print vs. digital. And as these machines become common place, it becomes clearer and clearer that no author should ever give up their rights to a traditional publisher just to get in print.

Will O’Neil March 21, 2016 um 5:07 pm

Whether this particular mode of distribution will dominate I’m not sure, but it seems clear that POD is bound to become the dominant way to produce the majority of print titles. Unless you can be sure of a large initial sale, the traditional mass production and distribution model seems destined to become increasingly uneconomic. I see this already happening quietly among academic publishers — look on the inside back page of your recent academic book (but not textbook) and see who printed it.

Traditional book printing was far from impossible for individual authors and I know some who did it, including some who warehoused the output in their garage or basement. But POD has made print books much more attractive for individual authors.

Hannah Steenbock March 22, 2016 um 6:08 am


I was hoping something like this would happen. To see it happen in France is very cool. (Especially as they have book price fixing laws like Germany.) I do believe this is the future of book stores.

Just imagine: There’s a book you love and you want to give it to someone as a gift – grab a print in this store, and you can. (Amazon is not allowing us to gift ebook copies yet in DE and FR.)

Nate Hoffelder March 22, 2016 um 7:45 am

I am continually surprised that neither Follett nor B&N have applied a POD machine to their textbook operations. It would save them the cost of shipping and storing all those copies, while at the same time reducing the used book market (thus making publishers happy).

Frank March 22, 2016 um 9:42 am

How does a POD book lower resale? Once someone finishes reading a POD book, what is to stop them from selling it as a used book?

Nate Hoffelder March 22, 2016 um 9:53 am

By going POD, publishers could release a new edition more frequently. That kills the value of the older editions.

The POD copy could also be personalized/customized.

Olivier March 22, 2016 um 10:07 am

In STM, where the useful life of a title is often very long, POD already has a big footprint but it is used by the publishers internally. This is new. The PUF used to have a major store (a whole building!) in the Quartier Latin but it closed in 2006, replaced by a clothes store. These small footprint, POD-powered bookstores may well be the only viable option in city centers where rents are climbing to the sky. Rue Monsieur-le-Prince is one of the most expensive spots in Paris.

Couple of pictures in this article: It gives an idea of the very small size of the store.

Nate Hoffelder March 25, 2016 um 7:59 pm

I wouldn’t say that technical books have a long shelf life – not with computers, anyway. About half of computer books are junk after 4 years.

Eric March 25, 2016 um 12:18 pm

Certainly a neat idea, but I’d like to have a few questions answered: how much do books sell for? Is there an online catalog of what’s available so a patron could know before coming to the store? Can a patron call ahead to have one printed for pickup, perhaps paying by credit card? What happens if there are 10 people waiting for a book and each takes 7 minutes?

Nate Hoffelder March 25, 2016 um 2:16 pm

France has fixed price book laws, so the books will cost about the same price in that store as they do on the web and in other stores (+/- 5%).

I don’t know if there’s a catalog, no, but I would bet that you could make a request over the phone. And yes, you can place an order online on the OnDemandBooks website.

Olivier March 25, 2016 um 8:25 pm

Yes, not computers, the hard sciences.

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