I have come across some pretty ‘unique’ sights in Train stations around the world but it was only recently I discovered the existence of book-dispensing vending machines, while waiting for the tube in downtown Bucharest. Brilliant, you have just finished your current on-the-way-to-work, public transport read and are in desperate need of another world to escape to before facing the reality of your workplace: Ta-da! Just pop in some spare change and your fresh novel is in your sticky little hands. I can’t help but wonder whether this unique form of book-selling is common throughout the world so I did some research… I found a great article on ‘Hufflington Post’ and composed a quick summary of the history of these quirky machines…
1822. The year of the Greek War of Independence, the year when the coffee ban was lifted in Sweden and the year of the last public whipping in Edinburgh,… Apparently also the birth-year of the first book-dispensing vending machine. Built in England by a man named Richard Carlile, a bookseller and invented the self-service machine allowing himself to sell controversal titles including Paine’s ‘Age of Reason’, without ending up in jail. Although Carlile never got in any trouble for the vending of seditious works, one of his employees was indeed convicted for selling ‘blasphemous material’.
Since Carlile, other big named companies and business’ have followed suit, including Penguin Books’ ‘Penguincubator’ and pPopular Sciences rang of literary vending machines that included the ‘Book-O-Mat, Readomatic and a Novel Idea’
The concept has become very popular in countries including China and Japan (where you can even find wallet-sized books). and these days many Western societies seem to have adopted the idea. You can find book-bearing vending machines in Barcelona, Stockholm and in different locations around Germany! A Californian Library has recently installed a book vending machine in a local train station where you can find around 500 best-sellers at no cost to the user using your library card if you aren’t in overdue book-return dept!
The concept may seem like more of a new-book-sellers business idea but for those of you that appreciate a well-travelled novel there is a vending-machine just for you. ‘Monkey’s Paw’, a Toronto bookshop recently released a quirky vending machine that randomly dispenses a selected second-hand book. The owner refers to it as an “antiquarian book randomiser”.
So what do you think? Are books as dispensable as candy? If you saw a book dispenser standing boldly beside the traditional snack machine who would get your spare change? Would you be catching your next train with a Coelo or a Coca-Cola…?