May 27, 2017 | This past Friday, I stopped by the Prudential Center to test out the new Short Edition print-on-demand short story vending machine. The machine is the brainchild of a “French publishing start-up” and dispenses short stories of various lengths to mallgoers, free of charge. According to the Globe, there are 140 of these machines around the world, though only a handful in the U.S.
The machine is located just outside the central court of the Prudential Center, at the beginning of the corridor that leads to the Barnes & Noble. It’s fairly nondescript; if you didn’t know what it was you might mistake it for a hand-sanitizer dispenser – a more prominent location might be better, perhaps closer to the bookstore, surrounded by some seating, or in a high traffic area, like outside Eataly, where people could print out a story before heading in for dinner.
The machine offers stories in three lengths, based on the time it supposedly takes to read them – one, three and five minutes. I selected a five-minute story and the machine spat out a long, narrow strip of paper that looked a lot like a CVS receipt. It was a little unwieldy at first, but I was able to wrap it up into tight cylinder, which allowed me to read it sort of like a player piano roll. The story I received was titled “Puig,” written by Gérard Aigle and translated by Wendy Cross. All the stories are translated from French; Short Edition has yet to accept submissions from English-speaking writers. They’re also all available on the Short Edition website if you can’t get to the Prudential Center.
The print quality is fair, and while the translation seemed good, there were some copy editing issues. They didn’t replace the «guillemets» with quotation marks, for instance.
The story was a sweet, sad, first-person recollection of a youthful friendship in Barcelona (“Puig,” the name of the narrator’s friend, is Catalan for “mountain”). I liked it a lot. As advertised, it was a quick read, and made for a nice way to pass the time while I waited for my train at Back Bay Station. I’m curious about what it would be like to interact with the machine over time. What are the odds that I’d receive “Puig” again the next time I visit?
Right now, the Short Edition machine is a novelty — that’s part of it’s appeal, to be sure. But a story loaded into one of these machines has an opportunity to reach an audience that’s potentially wider and more diverse than the one that typically reads short fiction. It could also be a big opportunity for literary magazines looking for wider distribution or promotion. Given that Short Edition is short on English-language stories, an enterprising magazine might be able to strike a deal with them.
While my overall experience with the Short Edition machine was positive, there’s one loose end: What do I do with my copy of “Puig”? I was reluctant to just throw it away or recycle it. Perhaps the machine should have a recycling bin attached to it so you can feel like you’re giving back to the project and facilitating future print-outs? Or is there some way to leave a story behind for others to save the machine a print?