New short story vending machines offer an engaging diversion for London commuters

8th April 2019

A commute at Canary WharfLast week French Company Short Édition installed 3 short story vending machines that dispense free 1, 3 and 5-minute stories to commuters in London’s Canary Wharf. The scheme is part of a global initiative to connect readers across countries and cultures by publishing fiction free of charge in train stations, cafes, libraries, hotels and universities.

The new short story dispensers are the first to be installed in the UK and include works by Anthony Horowitz, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf dispensed at the touch of a button to intrigue and entertain commuters as they pass through the busy travel hub.

The vending machines are the brainchild of French company Short Édition, who have already installed similar machines in many locations including Paris, Hong Kong and San Francisco. The scheme is backed by short fiction fan and film director Francis Ford Coppola, who was so impressed by Short Édition’s idea to provide literary experiences in unexpected places that he invested in the company and had machines installed at his café and wineries in the US.

The new short story vending machines at Canary Wharf are set up to dispense a range of genres including sci-fi, romance and children’s fiction, by classic authors along with a specially-commissioned 1-minute contemporary whodunit entitled ‘Mr Robinson’ by Anthony Horowitz. The best selling novelist admitted it had been fun but also very challenging to condense his ideas into such a short piece of literature and it took him almost a week to write it:

“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.. 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.

“…I travel on the tube every single day and I see everybody buried in apps and games, or looking at old tweets. 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.”

Speaking about their decision to install the machines at in London, head of arts and events at Canary Wharf Group, Lucie Moore explained that the move had been prompted by a recent poll of 2,000 UK adults, which suggested that many people no longer manage to finish reading a book – 36% had given up on at least one book in the last year due to lack of time, and that 30% had not finished a book in over six months.

“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.” She said.

This certainly sounds like a good opportunity to reconnect with literature – and perhaps introduce people to different genres and authors as they experience a brief moment of analogue escapism during their commute. Let’s hope that we see more vending machines like this popping up in the UK. Where would you put one and what would you like to read about? Let us know in the comments section below.

Photo by James Zwadlo on Unsplash