The French City Of Grenoble Wants You To Kill Time With A Short Story

Literature to the people.

The public plazas in Grenoble, a city in southeastern France, might appear to be a prototypical European panorama of outdoor cafes, people milling about, and picturesque historic architecture. But the city is soon to unleash a handful of vending machines that dispense short stories in an effort to change the way people kill time. Instead of mindlessly checking Twitter moments or playing another round of Candy Crush, the city’s denizens could be discovering a new story from the publisher Short Édition.


The totemic machines are free to use and operate 24 hours a day. Simply decide how long of a story you’d like—one, three, or five minutes—press the corresponding button, grab the print out, and start reading. Currently, there are 600 short stories in the dispensers, which represent the best written works on Short Édition as determined by its community of 141,000 subscribers and 1,100 authors.

Quentin Plepé, the publisher’s co-founder, and his team came up with the idea a couple years ago as they were standing around a snack machine in their office. What if the same concept could be applied to literature, they wondered. After two years of development, they finally debuted the finished design this month.

The project isn’t a tirade against smartphones, rather, it offers a welcome alternative to having your eyes glued to a screen.

“The city was on board from the beginning,” Plepé says. “What they really liked was the fact that the dispensers distribute culture though the city in an original way.” What makes this project even more interesting beyond the reading and discovery angle is that it’s a small-scale intervention that introduces an opportunity for shared experiences in the city. In a similar vein to the TalkBox SHoP Architects and public radio station WNYC installed on Staten Island, it becomes a site of discussion and a clever way to communicate ideas.

“Stories are an important part of our life,” Plepé says. “We need them to construct who we are as individuals. More and more people don’t take the time anymore to sit and read a book. This is a way to have a little ‘bite’ of a story, just for a couple of minutes.”

While Grenoble is the only city on the docket to receive the dispensers, Short Édition wants to expand anywhere it can.


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.