A Paris bookshop is printing books on demand

An all-digital bookshop has opened in Paris, suggesting that perhaps there can be a happy medium between modern technology and traditional paper books after all.

Customers of the new shop for the 95-year-old esteemed publishers Les Presses Universitaires de France (PUF) can choose the book they want a printed copy of from around three million titles.

Then a robot – called the Espresso Book Machine – prints, binds and trims the book in just a few minutes.

The Espresso Book Machine (Francois Mori/AP)

The Espresso Book Machine uses two PDFs – one for the cover and another for the text. The cover can be printed in colour but the inside of the book is black and white only.

The cover of the books are a bit sticky compared to those of traditional paperbacks because of the gloss used – but aside from that, the machine prints library-quality books sold at the same price as in traditional bookshops.

PUF was forced to close its historic bookstore on the Place de La Sorbonne in 1999 – but now it’s back and just a stone’s throw away from its previous location.

PUF general manager Frederic Meriot told The Associated Press: “This is the first all-digital bookshop in Europe that sells books on demand only.

“It is a model for the future, a model in which digital and paperback books can work together.”

Pauline Darfeuille, a project engineer from the printers’ national union who helped PUF set up the machine, said: “In France it’s a small revolution.”

Alexandre Gaudefroy, who has managed the PUF project since its inception, said while customers are waiting, they can grab a cup of coffee from the store. “The idea was to create a tea room and a bookshop at the same time,” he said.

PUF project manager Alexandre Gaudefroy (Francois Mori/AP)

The cost-benefits of a digital bookshop include the ability to rent a smaller (and therefore cheaper) space since there’s no need for a big warehouse to store lots of copies, plus it’s an efficient, low-carbon way of making books, according to Meriot.

He said he needs to sell about 15 books daily to break even. But if the first day of business is anything to go by – when the store sold 60 – then that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

“It was almost a riot, our booksellers didn’t even find the time to take a break for lunch,” he said.


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