Today, you can instantly stream the latest episode of a TV show. You can immediately download a new song. And, in one little Parisian shop, you can even print a book “on demand.”
For years, independent bookstores have struggled to keep up with the current culture of instantly accessible media. Yet, despite the fact that nothing is as fast or convenient than downloading an e-book, the real deal is experiencing a resurgence.
Last year, the Association of American Publishers reported that paperback book sales increased 13.3 percent while e-book sales decreased 11.1 percent. Additionally, the Census Bureau found that bookstore sales grew 2.5 percent in 2015 — the first time in eight years.
Tucked into this cultural renaissance and the heart of Paris is La Librairie des Puf.
Called Les Puf for short, this literary staple of the Latin Quarter opened in 1921 but was forced to close in 2006.
Ten years later, it has reopened just a few blocks down from its original location, but with a new way to meet its customers' paperback needs — faster and better than any other store, including Amazon.
Upon entering the shop, patrons will immediately notice what sets Les Puf apart from the competition: it’s bookless.
Instead of shelves and stacks heaving with tomes, the store's focal point is a little machine that can print more than 7 million multilingual titles — in about five minutes each.
The Espresso Book Machine (EPM) — so named by its American manufacturer, On Demand Books, because it can print a book in roughly the same amount of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee — aims to revolutionize the publishing and distribution process one book at a time.
If the machine's ability is any indication, it won't take that long.
The EPM's already made an impact at Les Puf, according to the shop's director Alexandre Gaudefrey. "The customers are all surprised," he said in an interview with the New York Times. Expecting to enter a bookstore and find, well, books, many are taken aback by the new process. Instead of scanning shelves, customers are given a tablet to browse titles and read descriptions from EPM's expansive digital library.
After a book has been selected, the machine transforms a PDF into a bookstore-quality paperback, complete with a color cover and option to add in a handwritten inscription.
While this new business model breaks the established and romanticized tradition of small bookstores, many consider it a welcome change.
Not only is this book printing process more cost-effective and environmentally friendly but, most importantly, it's more convenient for the customer.
If a local bookstore doesn't have a particular item in stock, many would-be patrons are forced to look elsewhere, either at a large box store or online. With the EPM, however, small bookstores have just as much selection — if not more — as the biggest Barnes & Noble.
"I don't have to worry about space for the stock," Gaudefroy told the New York Times. "We're in a space which measures less than 80 meters squared, and I can offer readers as many titles as I want."
Though some may still prefer to browse the racks and choose their reading material based on what looks good, Les Puf proves there's future potential in the old adage "never judge a book by its cover."
Cover image via Unsplash