Community//

A Bookstore With No Books?

The classic Parisian bookstore Les Puf now houses a machine that prints your book in the same amount of time it takes to drink a coffee.

Photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn on Unsplash

Remember the days when you’d go to a bookstore to lounge around? Check out a few books or magazines, sit down in one of those comfortable chairs, maybe have a coffee?

If you’re like me, you haven’t experienced that in years.

There’s a number of reasons why that’s the case, but one of the biggest is that it’s just so easy to get books online nowadays–even if you want one in print.

But the Librairie des Puf, called Les Puffor short, is trying to make getting your hands on a physical book even easier. Found in the heart of Paris, Les Puf is built on a very unique business model:

The store doesn’t have any books. Instead, it prints the book you want–in about five minutes.

Instead of wasting space housing books from wholesalers that will mostly go unpurchased, Les Puf prints books on request using an Espresso Book Machine. On Demand Books, the American company that manufactures the machine, chose the name to highlight the machine’s ability to make a book in just a few minutes–about the same amount of time it takes to drink a coffee.

So, how does it work? An article published in The New York Times describes it this way:

Labeled, 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.”

(A short video detailing how the Espresso Book Machine works can be seen here.)

The original Librairie des Puf opened in 1921. A spot that was especially popular with patrons from nearby universities, the store occupied a multilevel space that was much larger than the one it holds today. The original store was forced to close about 10 years ago, like countless other bookstores in cities around the world.

It reopened in March just a few blocks from the original location–but in its present, drastically different incarnation.

In fact, the traditional bookstore is experiencing a resurgence: In the first 10 months of 2015, the Association of American Publishers reported that e-book sales in the U.S. fell 12.3 percent. At the same time, paperback book sales grew 12.4 percent. And according to the Census Bureau, bookstore sales rose 2.5 percent last year–the first time those sales have grown since 2007.

Even Amazon has begun foraying into a territory they’ve long resisted: After opening their first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, they recently announced plans to open another in Southern California. 

Les Puf takes advantage of these recent trends, while eliminating the need for a large physical space. “I don’t have to worry about space for the stock,” said Mr. Gaudefroy in his interview with the Times. “We’re in a space which measures less than 80 meters squared, and I can offer readers as many titles as I want.”

I happen to have a unique perspective on book publishing. My career began working at a printer, where I helped manufacture millions of books over a number of years. Now as a writer, I see things from the other side: As I prepare to publish my first book (a practical guide to developing emotional intelligence–here’s a free newsletter if you’re interested in following its launch), I’ve been studying the market to determine how much effort to put into making print copies available.

The benefits of this model are so many I don’t know where to begin. To name just a few: It enables retailers to more readily compete with online booksellers. It’s green; only books that are sold get printed. And you can literally get your book in five minutes–even Amazon can’t do that (yet).

If Les Puf’s model gains popularity, it’ll make the decision to go print a bit easier in the future.

And it just may help put bookstores back in business.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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