The Vending Machine That Spits Out Short Stories

Stories are shared many ways. They are recounted in books and magazines. They are read aloud around the campfire at night. They are randomly dispensed from stand-alone kiosks, doled out on strips of paper like grocery store receipts.

Wait, what was that last one?

Leave it to the French, with their love of Voltaire and Simone de Beauvoir, to revive literature in the era of hot takes, fast news and smartphone addiction. Short Edition, a French community publisher of short-form literature, has installed more than 30 story dispensers in the United States in the past year to deliver fiction at the push of a button at restaurants and universities, government offices and transportation hubs.

Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and winemaker, liked the idea so much that he invested in the company and placed a dispenser at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Last month public libraries in four cities — Philadelphia; Akron, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; and Columbia, S.C. — announced they would be installing them too. There is one on the campus at Penn State. A few can be found in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla. And Short Edition plans to announce more, including at Los Angeles International Airport.

“Everything old is new again,” said Andrew Nurkin, the deputy director of enrichment and civic engagement at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is one of the libraries that got funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to install the dispensers. “We want people exposed to literature. We want to advance literacy among children and inspire creativity.”

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