Short story vending machines to transport London commuters

The machines, made by French company Short Édition, will dispense free one, three and five-minute stories … with the first penned by Anthony Horowitz

Weary city workers will have a new way of passing the time on their commute once the UK’s first short-story vending machines are installed at Canary Wharf this week.

Dispensing one, three and five-minute stories free to passersby at the touch of a button, the vending machines are made by French company Short Édition. They already feature in locations across France, in Hong Kong and the US, where Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola was such a fan he invested in the company and had a dispenser installed at his San Francisco restaurant, Cafe Zoetrope.

The three machines being unveiled in Canary Wharf on Thursday are the first in the UK. Covering genres from sci-fi to romance and children’s fiction, the stories will be by authors including Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens – and the initiative launches with a specially commissioned one-minute tale from bestselling novelist Anthony Horowitz. He plumped on writing a whodunnit for the machine, and admitted it had been a challenge to condense the genre into such a short form.

Challenging brief … Anthony Horowitz.
Challenging brief … Anthony Horowitz. Photograph: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

“It was the challenge of writing a story that could be read between two stations - not just a short story but a very short story,” he said. “Because I love mystery and whodunnits, the question of if it would it be possible to write a proper whodunnit with a solution which made you smile in such a short amount of space was irresistible. The whole notion amused me.” He said it took three or four days to write his story, Mr Robinson.

Allen Lane’s book-vending Penguincubator charged sixpence a throw.
Allen Lane’s book-vending Penguincubator charged sixpence a throw. Photograph: Penguin Books

The idea of selling books from a machine is not new; in 1937, Penguin founder Allen Lane installed a “Penguincubator” on Charing Cross Road, a slot-machine book-dispenser that biographer Jeremy Lewis wrote: “shocked his more conservative colleagues”.

“What appealed to me was that I travel on the tube every single day and I see everybody buried in apps and games, or looking at old tweets,” said Horowitz, who is currently working on the television adaptation of his Alex Rider books. “So the idea of using that little chunk of your day for something that entertains you, something which is, with a very small ‘l’, literature, is appealing.”

The Canary Wharf Group said it had been prompted to install the machines after new research found that members of the public were not finding time to finish books. The research, which polled 2,000 UK adults, found that 36% had given up on at least one book in the last year due to lack of time, and 30% had not finished a book in over six months.

Head of arts and events Lucie Moore said: “We’re all guilty of saying we’re too busy, but our research found that a staggering 70% of us would rather get lost in a good book than get lost down the rabbit hole of social media. Our short story stations provide the perfect digital antidote – a return to analogue scrolling.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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