Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Food for the Mind - By Vending Machine

If you're in Paris and suddenly need a quick fix of The Odyssey or Alice in Wonderland , or need a couscous recipe in the middle of the night, or are stuck for how to conjugate an irregular verb after hours, a dash to the nearest book vending machine can put the right book in your hands in seconds and at the very reasonable price of $2.45 per copy.

The great thing about book vending machines is that they will appeal to people who do not normally buy books, and thus make reading much more accessible to the average Joe.

Surprisingly, book vending machines have actually been around for a very long time.

The first - in fact the first vending machine of any kind - was invented by English publisher and bookseller Richard Carlisle in the 1880's.

Book vending machines were introduced in Germany in 1912, and by 1917 there were 2,000 of them.

When Penguin Books first went on sale in 1935, they were apparently sold from towering wood and glass vending machines which were given the lovely name Penguincubators. Apparently these are very much in demand among collectors and I was sad that I did not manage to turn up a picture of one.

The US apparently had Read-O-Mat and Vend-A-Book machines from the 1950's and original Bantam Books were sold this way.

And now there seems to be a world-wide revival in selling books in this way.

There are book vending machines in the Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro metro stations selling Brazilian classic literature, cookbooks and Paul Coelho's novels. The books are sold at the same low price (about $1.50) and are proving to be a success, selling 250 copies a month each.

And this one was snapped in Santiago, Chile.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Germany is apparently rediscovering the book vending machine. A German publishing company decided to use this strategy a year ago to give their new unknown authors a chance to get noticed. Unfortunately the machines sell not only books, but food too so you get your book chilled along with your sandwich. How cool can you get!

Britain is also getting in on the act: book vending machines are being introduced onto platforms across the UK's rail network: a business venture by two well-connected entrepreneurs to dispense short stories from vending machines on station platforms. each story will be between 7,000 and 12,000 words long, cost £1 and, because they are designed to be read in forty minutes or so, they will be printed on one sheet of paper and will fold up like a map.
Authors selected so far include PG Wodehouse, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and Katherine Mansfield. The board of editors is no less illustrious and includes Beryl Bainbridge, Martin Amis, Dame Muriel Spark and William Trevor. The latter two have even written short stories especially for this imprint.

(Wow! If anyone comes across one of these machine, please buy the whole lot for me!)

Now don't you think that this is an idea that might catch on here in the Klang Valley? Can't you just see folks at LRT and Commuter stations popping a ringgit or two into a slot for a daily measure of entertainment?

Mind you, e-books are probably set to become the next big thing.

But apparently there's now vending machines even for those - and apparently the first country to jump on the bandwagon is Australia!

Hmmmm ... aren't you glad you came to visit this repository of totally useless information today?


The Visitor said...

they should have a vending machine for independent short films on DVD. i'm sure ppl will buy em. sell them cheap.

The Visitor said...

imagine: someone going home after work/shopping/dating/watever, at the LRT station, and then "hmm, i got nothing to do at home tonight. i've run out of DVDs to watch. it's too late to go to the DVD store. hey, look, a vending machine! mebe i should pick up a short film or two. might be interesting. oh look, they have one by The Visitor! i like his films! hmm, where's that five-ringgit bill?"


bibliobibuli said...

Yehlah. They buy your film - however are we going to inculcate a reading culture?

The Visitor said...

that is why we have books about film!


bibliobibuli said...

Or films about books.

Maybe your film will be jousting with my book for space and saying "This vending machine ain't big enough for the both of us."

Sorry, surreal moment. Time for bed.

Yvonne Foong said...

Firstly, the cost of book publishing has to be lowered. And why not? I think they should sell short stories collective that way. I think people would prefer to browse novels.

=] said...

Whoa.. I'd love to have one of those on campus.. Then again, I'll end up staying up addicted to those books rather than studying..

Anonymous said...

I just thought the tiles in the Chile photo would look good in my new bathroom. Then thought the entire vending machine might just fit in the space in front of the WC.

Hey that's where the most creative ideas are born!


XMOCHA! said...

this is useful information.. and thanks for the pics too.

priya said...

Not just at LRT stations, they should have one in each goverment department! So while you wait for your numbers to get called out by the surly clerk, you can at least enjoy a nice quickie.

Erm, a quick read I mean. Yes.

Yvonne Foong said...

haha! That's a good one priya. Government hospitals too. oh the long wait is crazee

Muddy said...

hopefully the vending machine will swallow paper notes, cause the ones i know don't.

eyeris said...

a ringgit or two tak boleh lar. fifty ringgit or more would be more like it...

3rd Chimp said...

When I lived in Japan, you could get an amazing variety of items from vending machines, in addition to the usual drinks and cigarettes: flowers, CDs, cup noodles, bags of rice, even clean panties (it doesn't bear thinking about!) As for books? Porn, baby. Sex comics, books and mags were all available in vending machines. I bet by now, they have literature available, as well. According to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association, there is one vending machine for every 23 people in Japan...now that's convenient!

bibliobibuli said...

Animah - then we'd never coax you out of the bathroom!

and Squiggley Rectangle (forgot what we called you the other day - sorry!) - you should be studying, so only academic books allowed in vending machines on campus!

Xmocha - useful? Maybe only if you're thinking of starting a book-vending machine business. ... Are you? Wanna go into partnership?

Priya, Yvonne - I think the other kind of quickie would be much more fun! ;-D

But yes,(seiously) government departments and hospitals would be ideal places. When I go to Immigration and sit for hours I just wonder at people's capacity for boredom without a book in their hands!

Muddy - doesn't it just drive you made when machines spit out your notes as if they don't taste good?

eyeris - better still if the books are cheaper ... but yes, if you want books for a few dollars go along to a warehouse sale or buy with the frozen peas in Carrefour!

3rd chimp - I saw some pics of vending machines selling mags in Japan but didn't realise it was THAT kind of literature they were dispensing ...

BTW just found that Barcelona also has book vending machines.

Anonymous said...

This is finally coming to Malaysia! Phew! I'm sharing your entry on my blog. Hope you don't mind :)

B said...

Six years on... and it's amazing to see how much the book prices have dropped. Now you can get free books if you want, or classics priced at Rm10, paperbacks at Rm30+, and eyeris was saying Rm50 was a good price for a book six years ago :)