On Book Vending Machines

Library Vending Machines

BookRiot (“The Library Vending Machine”) had a post which caught my attention, complete with YouTube video link, about the first 24-hour library vending machine in the United States. It’s a neat idea, and perhaps more scalable for areas without the benefit of branch libraries:

“This particular model costs $200,000, which includes a touchscreen terminal that patrons use to check materials in and out. The machine can also serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot, with either open or password-protected internet access. Patrons can also pick up holds and pay fines with credit cards.”

After all, if we have iPad vending machines (how are these profitable? why?), why not books? Which isn’t to suggest that book vending machines themselves are a new thing. The Huffington Post (“A Brief History of Book Vending Machines”) shares some helpful historical context, with book vending machines dating back to 1822, including the 1937 Penguincubator. And I know I have a photo somewhere of the now-defunct novel vending machine at London Heathrow Airport in 2010*:

“Although vending machines have long been considered acceptable for newspapers, they’ve never really caught on where books are concerned. Books aren’t disposable items like cigarettes or candy. As a result, there’s something counter-intuitive about buying a book from a device that dispenses soda pop. Bestselling titles may help to diminish this disconnect, but do little to improve reading’s perceived intellectual value.”

Novel Idea Vending Machine London Airport

Good point: there is something wasteful about a book we read once and discard, even if it is only a John Grisham novel that is read once, kept on a bookshelf for five years, and then sold at a garage sale for twenty-five cents.

If it were me, I’d put the book vending machines in places where people are forced to wait with almost nothing to do … like post offices, or unemployment offices. They’d move backlist items like hotcakes.

[update: Hey, there’s even one in Sunnyvale, CA! From San Jose Mercury: “County’s first library vending machine serves books at the push of a button”]

[update 2: I found my Novel Ideas photo, too]

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And, check out this great Pinterest board of Book Vending Machines photos, new and old.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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