When I was a teenager, vending machines in schools were a controversial topic. Everyone and their granny seemed to be obsessing about how they could encourage children to eat healthily, lest the words ‘CLINICALLY OBESE’ should be (figuratively) branded on their foreheads. So one day, I came in to school to discover that the vending machines that had once given out sweets, crisps and fizzy juice had been replaced with these vending machines abominations, which produced healthy snacks and bottled water.
I was appalled.
Perhaps if they had replaced them with the kind of vending machines you can now find in the French city of Grenoble, I wouldn’t have been so disgusted. In October 2015, the small but vibrant French publishing company Short Édition distributed eight ‘Distributeur d’histoires courtes’ (that’s ‘short story distributors’ to you and I) to be trialled in various public locations. These machines come fully equipped with more than 600 short stories, selected by the 142,000 Short Édition readers from among the 60,000 stories on the Short Édition website. With such a wide readership selecting which stories were to be included in the machine from such a rich pool of stories, it’s safe to say the user will probably get a story worth reading. The user has three categories of story to choose from: a one minute story, a three minute story or a five minute story. What they cannot choose is which genre of story they get, which could be almost anything- even poetry.
They are proving immensely popular, with over 10,000 stories having been dispensed within the first two weeks of the machines’ release, according to Short Édition’s co-founder, Quentin Pleplé. Hardly surprising, since you only have to look (discreetly) at your fellow commuters on any given day to see that the vast majority of them will have their heads buried in a newspaper, a book or (more often than not these days) a smartphone. Clearly, there is a niche in the market for commuter friendly entertainment.
Let’s be honest. People like us, who know that fiction is better than reality, only read newspapers because we know we should, not because we find them half as enjoyable as a good story.
Reading full sized novels on the bus is all well and good of course, but it also has its downsides. For a start, books are usually too large to carry around in your pocket (especially if you enjoy a hefty tome, as I do). I also find myself getting frustrated if my journey ends when I’m halfway through a chapter (call me fussy, but I find the beginning of a new chapter is a very natural place to pause).
I think we all know that we all spend more time than we should staring at mobile phones and other screens as it is. Besides, there’s nothing worse than being rudely interrupted by some ignoramus who thinks it’s acceptable to try and phone you on your smartphone when you’re trying to read some e-book you downloaded.
And of course, live theatre on the bus is just plain dangerous.
Finally, it seems that the French are revolting.
But it’s not just the commuters who are benefiting from this revolution in story distribution. The authors whose stories are included in the distributeur d’histoires courtes earn a whopping 10% of all rents paid to Short Édition from those who have one of the newfangled machines. To give you some context, it costs €500 per month to rent one of these beauties, which means €50 is going straight into the pockets of the authors every month. That’s about £38 sterling, which is not to be sniffed at.
If you want to try out one of these devices for yourself and don’t live anywhere near Grenoble then I’m afraid it’s fromage à pâte dure at the moment. You can’t get them anywhere else. However with a bit of luck, Short Édition will soon expand and… who knows? Maybe soon we’ll be seeing similar devices in every train station in the world!
Vive la révolution!
1. P. Bock (22/01/2016), ‘How A City in France Got the World’s First Short-Story Vending Machines’, The New Yorker. Accessed 30/01/2016
2. A. Flood (13/11/2015), ‘Short Story Vending Machines Press French Commutors’ Buttons’, The Guardian. Accessed 30/01/2016
3. C. Jobson (19/11/2015), ‘Short Edition: A Short Story Vending Machine that Prints Free Stories On-Demand’, Colossal. Accessed 30/01/2016
4. J. Shepherd (10/11/2015), ‘Short Story “Vending Machines” to be Installed in Grenoble, France’, The Independent. Accessed 30/01/2016