by Kevin Coupe

I was in San Francisco the other day, hanging out as is my habit there, enjoying a glass or two of wine and some nibbles at Cafe Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s restaurant. After I ordered, I spied a small kiosk that seemed new since my last visit. I investigated.

It was a Short Story Dispenser, and it offers three options - stories that can be read in one, three or five minutes. Intrigued, I chose a three-minute story, and was treated to a three-foot long strip of paper that was roughly the size of a cash register tape, and featuring what ended up being the translation of a short romantic piece by a French author; it was a kind of literary miniature, and served as a nice diversion from my iPad and dozens of emails. Perfect for a brief getaway in a neighborhood bistro/cafe … and also on brand for Coppola, who publishes a short story magazine.

I chatted with the bartender, and he told me that the dispenser is part of a broader program that started in France, with kiosks located in train stations, bus stops, malls, hospitals, and airports - any place that people might hang out for a few minutes and could be looking for something to read. I subsequently did a little research, and found a Boston Globe story saying that “the stories are submitted by writers to the Short Edition website and chosen by readers who vote on their favorites. For now, the tales available in the United States will be translations from the French, but the company has just launched an English version … Short Edition’s Loic Giraut says that the random element of the dispenser - you never know which story you’ll get of the several thousand the company has curated to date - is one of the allures. They do have the ability to customize, however. The French national train system recently requested all romance tales for the week of Valentine’s Day.”

I think this is a fabulous idea, and am heartened to see that “since 2015, when Short Edition debuted the machine, it has installed nearly 140 of them, throughout France and as far afield as Hong Kong and Australia. So far, more than 600,000 stories have been distributed.”

Lovely. And just another, Eye-Opening way to create a differential advantage.