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Home Columns Culture A short-story vending machine in Utrecht

A short-story vending machine in Utrecht

Last updated 4 months ago by UtrechtCentral.com

From tobacco to frikandel

Very early brass machines dispensed tobacco. In the late nineteenth century arrived fully coin-operated machines. Installed at railway stations and post offices, they were for purchasing envelopes, postcards and note papers. The concept caught on. Soon people were buying candy-coated gumball, snacks, soda pop, wine, beer and liquor; every necessary item including cigarettes, marijuana and condoms.

27 June 1967 saw the first ever cash dispensing machine of Barclays Bank at Enfield, north London—the first ATM of the world. The next major leap was in 2006 when credit card scanners were built into the product dispensing machines.
We in the Netherlands know all about FEBO and Smullers with their machines vending typical Dutch fast food such as krokets, frikandels and kaassouffles.

Today Vending Machines are popular in every possible place. Photo credits: Steven Su on Unsplash

And now there is something for the soul. The first short story machine in the country is being launched during the International Literature Festival currently being held at Utrecht (ILFU).

The story machine

The ILFU has managed the impossible of arranging lectures by authors of the stature of Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell even in these Corona times. Having begun on 25 September, it will continue to 3 October. And through the entire duration, visitors can get a range of short stories dispatched by a dispensing machine — stories authored by prominent Dutch writers including Remco Campert, Manon Uphoff, Lévi Weemoedt, Herman Koch, A.L. Snijders, Esther Gerritsen and Maarten Biesheuvel.

Choose a story, press a button, and out it comes on a strip of paper like a grocery store receipt. The tales are printed using an inkless method on biodegradable paper. Thus, there is little stress on the environment. And it is gratis. Yes, the stories are being provided free during the festival.

The idea of the literary vending machine is not new. Short edition, a French community publisher of short form literature in United States, started installing story dispensers all over America in 2018, at restaurants, universities, government offices and transportation hubs. Francis Ford Coppola, the film director and winemaker, became enamoured with the idea. A dispenser soon found its place at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neighbourhood of San Francisco. At present there are around 300 of these machines around the world.

A moving plot

All through the ILFU, the story machine will keep roaming. It will be installed at different locations in Utrecht every day.

With the first such machine being set up in Utrecht, one hopes the rest of Netherlands will grow to the idea. As festival director Michaël Stoker says: “This year, the ILFU’s motto is ‘We need stories’. A short story can move you, or get you thinking, in the space of a few minutes. Ideal for when you’re out and about. The story machine is a great way of surprising people with literature in unexpected places. And for once not on a screen, but on good old-fashioned paper.”

After its journey across Utrecht during the festival, the machine will be located permanently at TivoliVredenburg.

Arunabha Sengupta
Arunabha Sengupta
Arun is a freelance writer, sports correspondent, statistician and a tour guide. He has lived in The Netherlands for the last 12 years and is in love with the country. He is especially fascinated by the way the country combines fascinating history with modern liberalism, the busy touristic hub with the quaint peaceful countryside.


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