NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - With "The official brick and mortar bookstore for Hunter College" printed on its front window, in its one-room, single-story shop on Lexington Avenue at 69th Street, Shakespeare and Co. stocks more than 7 million titles.
"It's a completely new way to sell books," Shakespeare and Co. software engineer Nicholas Melhado said.
Melhado demonstrates for Fox 5 how software he wrote interacts with a golf-cart-sized paperback printing-and-binding machine invented, built and owned by the independent bookstore that employs him.
"We have a huge library of books," Melhado said. "We print everything in the public domain, so everything older than 1924."
For a tiny fee, Google (via its project to digitize every book ever written) provides the files for all those titles already in the public domain. The rest come from a growing list of publishers, including industry giant Harper Collins, with which Shakespeare and Co. has cut deals.
"We feel that it's the solution for independent bookstores to thrive in the current economy," Melhado said.
Not just a sales gimmick of novelty item, the Espresso Book Machine on the Upper East Side prints around 50 books a day.
"We print things all day long," Melhado said.
New releases stores struggle to keep in stock, classics, self-published books, color covers, matte covers, all fonts: The three (soon to be four) Espresso Book Machines at Shakespeare and Co.'s three (soon to be four) stores can print and bind paperbacks in whatever format the title's digital file demands.
"[Even] obscure research books you literally cannot find anywhere else," Melhado said.
Titles cost the buyer the same as any other book on Shakespeare and Co.'s shelves, and a small selection of classics offer the option to print a version of the story with the character names throughout changed to whatever the buyer requests.
Super-heated glue binds up to 700 pages within seconds, spitting out a book near indistinguishable from any other paperback on Shakespeare and Co.'s shelves within five minutes, giving this small Upper East Side shop as many titles in stock as any bookstore anywhere on the planet.
"You have these small independent bookstores," Melhado said. "You have a small footprint but you want to be able to offer everything Amazon can offer. This is the solution."