Free Short Stories On Offer At French Train Stations

Train at Paris Gare de lEst │
Train at Paris Gare de l'Est │ | © Nelso Silva/Flickr
Paul McQueen

Vending machines at train stations in Paris and a dozen other French cities are now offering something far more nourishing than chocolate bars, packets of crisps, and cans of fizzy juice: literature. This joint project of the publishing house Short Edition and the SNCF Gares & Connexions service is the latest cultural offering to be rolled out in the nation’s transport hubs, following the introduction of pianos, art exhibitions, and regular concerts.
In order to get their hands on a free short story or poem, travelers need only choose between a reading duration of one, three, or five minutes and the machine will provide a work of a corresponding length from its library of thousands.

The printed scrolls, which are roughly the same in appearance and size as the receipt for your weekly food shop (depending, of course, on the number of mouths you feed), are made with high-quality paper, with the intention that they will thus be conserved rather than swiftly tossed in a bin once read. The system also uses thermal, cartridge-free printing and smart technology to track, and if necessary limit, the number of works issued.

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In terms of what you can expect to read, the content can be grouped into one of ten classes, from children’s stories to lyrical poetry. The collection contains classic works of literature as well as works submitted by more than 5,000 new and aspiring writers, many of whom are published anonymously.

The idea for the project came to Short Editions, a start-up from Grenoble that specializes in short fiction, as a way to promote reading, writing, and their own bank of artists. Their local SNCF station was the site of the first trial for this new form of publishing. Within six months, over 100,000 stories and poems had been distributed, and the project had been greenlit for a national expansion.

Now in 24 railway stations all over France, from Brest in the northwest to Nice in the southeast and including all of the major Parisian rail stations, the plan is to extend to a further 11 locations by the end of the year. The idea has also garnered some international attention, in particular from one Francis Ford Coppola. The legendary film director was so impressed by the concept that he commissioned one of the machines to be installed in his San Francisco café.

The chances are that these machines will be popping up in a train station, airport, or bus terminal near you very soon.

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