Staring blankly into space while riding on a train or waiting in line is a familiar feeling. But in many parts of France, and now in San Francisco, it’s possible to keep your mind occupied with a free short story, accessible with the simple touch of a button.
The “Distributeur d’Histoires Courtes” (Short Story Vending Machine) was invented by publishing startup Short Edition, and can now be found in around 32 locations. By pushing one of three buttons you can choose the length of your story—one, three, or five minutes—which will be automatically printed out from the dispenser like a receipt.
A variety of genres are represented, including humor, horror, and fairy tales, and the randomness of what kind of story you may get is part of the fun. Another reason for the popularity of the Short Story Vending Machine is the excitement of reading a story that wasn’t written by a widely published author, but rather by an average Jane.
The database is filled with thousands of user-submitted shorts sent in by amateur writers looking to share their work with others. These short stories are then posted to the Short Edition app, where the app’s 140,000 users vote on which tales are worthy of being printed from the dispensers.
You can find a Short Story Vending Machine in train stations across France, in the library, airport, and city hall of Grenoble, France (the city in which the dispensers were first tested), and stateside at Cafe Zoetrope in San Francisco.