Free short story vending machines delight commuters

‘Short story stations’ in Canary Wharf print one- three- and five-minute reads on demand

“Every single day,” says Paresh Raichura, “I’m on the lookout for something new to read.” On his hour-long commute to Canary Wharf, where he works for the Financial Ombudsman, he picks up Time Out or a local paper or the freesheet Metro, but says: “I’ve stopped reading all the long novels I used to read.”


He shrugs. “Too long. Lack of time. Once you start, you can’t stop.”

And so he is delighted by a new initiative close to his workplace where, at the push of a button, he is delivered a bitesize short story, printed on to a long spool of paper, that takes no more than a few minutes to read.

“I’m old-fashioned, I like something to hold in my hands,” he says approvingly, looking at the scrolls. He has printed off one each of the one-, three- and five-minute stories offered by the new fiction vending machine, “just to test them out”.

There can’t be many people who feel they need more things to command their time and attention. But for those who do feel insufficiently entertained, distracted or assailed, the Canary Wharf estate has installed three “short story stations” in the shopping malls and green spaces around the commercial district.

Books are too long, the development offers by way of explanation, citing research that more than a third of Britons have abandoned a novel or nonfiction work in the past year. Give us a something that we can read in the time it takes to hum a pop song, goes the logic, and we might actually make it to the end.

And to judge by the reaction of early morning commuters this week, they might be on to something – though the fact that the stories are free and print off in a few seconds undoubtedly helps.

A short story vending machine in Canary Wharf station.
A short story vending machine in Canary Wharf station. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

“I think it’s cool – just to get people reading,” says Babita Bismal, who works in the finance department at JP Morgan and commutes from north London.

Couldn’t we just read books or magazines – perhaps even newspapers?

As it happens, Bismal has both in her bag for her journey home. But, she says: “I have children, and I can see them getting addicted to their phones. I’m almost encouraging them to watch TV instead.” She has printed off a five-minute story – Alight in the Storm by Thierry Covolo – and will try it on her 12- and 17-year-olds later.

It is a sentiment echoed by other commuters, who express almost relief to have something to distract them from their handsets. (“I do agree that there’s a bit too much Instagram and not enough Waterstones,” says Charlie Wild, a financial software developer.)

“I love reading,” says Sam Rankin, a receptionist and trainee barber, “but it’s so nice to have something on a piece of paper, something tangible. These days everything is on a phone.” She has printed off a one-minute story, a (very) brief whodunnit called The Death of Mr Robinson that has been specially commissioned for the project from novelist Anthony Horowitz.

Will she read it on the way home? “Probably on my lunchbreak actually. I’ll come back to get a five-minute one later. To read when I get a bit more time.”


Esther Addley

The GuardianTramp

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