Roald Dahl could have invented the Short Story Dispenser. The Dahlian gizmo, that spews out free stories to an on-the-go or bored public at the push of a button, is the machination of Short Édition, a French company based in Grenoble.
“We are first and foremost a platform for writers around the world to showcase and share work. We are not vending machine sellers, but the creators of ‘button fiction,’” says Kristen Leroy, Export Director of Short Édition and a 1990 graduate of UCSB.
The publishing company, created in 2011, has more than 9,000 authors, who submit short, fiction stories or poems that take from one, three, or five minutes for readers to devour while en route to catch a bus, train or airplane, enduring waiting rooms or just waiting for a food order in 200 locations from Hong Kong to Harvard. The company has dispensed more than three million stories and generated more than 19 million readings since it placed its first machines in France in 2016. Authors, whose stories or poems make it into the ergonomically and eco-friendly 4-foot-high green dispensers, receive royalties. For many authors this is a first-time publishing experience.
Jana Brody with daughter, Shira, in front of the Short Story Dispenser, at the Public Market’s Victoria Street entrance
Jana Brody, Program Manager for the Morris B. Squire Foundation, a non-profit that promotes the visual and performing arts in Santa Barbara, bought a machine last spring with a $10,000 grant for the purchase. Brody was intrigued when she heard about the Dispenser and pitched the idea of having one to Santa Barbara Public Market’s owner, Marge Cafarelli. “She loved the idea” says Brody. “It was installed in early April and Marge agreed to have the Dispenser for a year.”
Cafarelli says, “It’s really fun having the Short Story Dispenser in the Public Market. I don’t think it has increased traffic, but it sure has made our guests happy.”
So far, the fast foodies that encounter the machine seem amused and enchanted by the Dispenser. Many admit that they have little time to read a book, but these short literary works provide something to look at other than iPhones while they await their orders or lick their ice cream cones from Rori’s, just yards away.
“The Squire Foundation wants to save the world through our collectively empowered right brain,” says Brody. “It seemed to be very 21st century. A machine with a bookworm’s heart.”
Kian Pardis, a 2019 graduate of Santa Barbara High School, thought the three-minute story he got from the Short Story Dispenser was “cool.” Pardis is heading to the University Edinburgh, Scotland in the Fall. He says he’ll check out one of the three Dispensers that are at Canary Wharf, in London