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Short story dispensers are spreading in cities around the world

The first were installed in France. Now short story dispensers – which choose a story based on the reading time selected – are spreading around the world, especially in the US.

Thanks to Short Edition, a small French startup, eight short story distributors were installed in the city hall, train stations, tourism office and post offices in the southern French city of Grenoble at the end of 2015. Perfect to help people kill time without relying on ever-present smartphones and, instead, giving literature a chance. Depending on how much time you have, you choose the one, three or five minutes button and the machine gives you your short story according to the estimated reading time requested.

Short Edition, how the idea started

The idea came to the startup’s founders, Christophe Sibieude and Quentin Pleplé, during a break in front of a snack vending machine in 2013. Instead of snacks and candies, one of them suggested there should short stories in them. Short Edition had already existed as a free publishing platform for amateur writers since 2011 and had published stories from 10,000 authors, about a hundred a day. A user base of about 140,000 people voted for the best stories, some of which would be made into audiobooks, e-books or old fashioned printed books thanks to partnerships with other bigger companies (such as Orange and Butagaz).

short story dispensers
Short story dispensers open a world of new literature to commuters worldwide

Now these stories can also be distributed by the vending machines, becoming part of someone’s morning or afternoon commute. You can’t choose the genre: humour, tragedy or comedy come out randomly and you get whatever the machine chooses for you. Éric Piolle, the environmentalist mayor of Grenoble and a long time anti-consumerist – already famous for banning advertisements from the city centre in 2014 – agreed to fund the eight prototypes at the very beginning of the project together with the city council and regional government.

Short story dispensers around the world

Soon after the distributors’ installation the small startup gained headlines all over the world and the founders were contacted from Tunisia, Australia, Italy and the USA for information on the machine. Some companies are currently testing one or several machines and those who wish can rent it for five hundred euros a month. Short Edition hopes the machines will make their way across the globe.

Francis Ford Coppola brings dispensers to the US

Last year in May, Academy Award winning director Francis Ford Coppola liked the idea so much he decided to install a distributor in his restaurant Café Zoetrope in North Beach, San Francisco, in the state of California. His acclaimed literary magazine Zoetrope: All-Story invited writers to submit their short stories to the Virtual Studio, an online writing workshop, where editors review and select the works and, with writers’ permission, add them to the machine.

The second machine was installed this June in a café in West Palm Beach in Florida, the hip Subculture Coffee on Clematis Street. More than 70,000 stories are randomly given to those who wait or sip their coffee in the shop. The city’s Downtown Development Authority is also planning to have local writers submit their own work to be reviewed and selected as soon as this December. Another two machines are ready to be installed in the city soon after a test period over the course of the next two months. Another five are now in the State College and Penn State Campus at University Park in Pennsylvania, and another at the Prudential Center, a very popular mall in downtown Boston, Massachusetts.

Enthusiasm for the initiative is felt on both sides: those who read and those who write, given that this is a great opportunity to give their works visibility. Stop looking at your smartphone, then, and find your short story too.

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