Brain Food: Vending Machines Offer Books Instead of Snacks

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You can buy all kinds of weird things from vending machines these days – from live crabs to blue jeans to gold bars – but this new iteration is more entertaining than most, and it’ll certainly keep you busy longer than a bag of Skittles. Peruse the covers of a curated selection of books through the glass of these BooksActually vending machines in Singapore for a new distraction on demand. If only this idea caught on everywhere, maybe we’d spend a bit less time standing around staring at our phones.

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Two of the machines are now ready for reading enthusiasts in high-traffic areas, including the National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Visitor Center. Fittingly for these locations, the selections appear to be Singapore-centric, including books by local authors as well as helpful guides for tourists. Each machine contains about 150 books with up to 22 titles, and the outsides of the machines are painted by local artists to indicate what’s inside.

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“The whole idea is about accessibility and eyeballs,” says Kenny Leck, owner of BooksActually. “There are not enough bookstores in Singapore… these vending machines could be a visual touchpoint. You may not buy [a book] but we’ll let you know these exist. And from there, there could be more possibilities. We start with visual awareness: books where you see a local author’s name. The ultimate place we want to put them are at train stations.”

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Of course, book vending machines aren’t entirely new, though they’re far more popular in Asia than they are stateside. The first book-dispensing machine, called the Penguincubator, was installed in London way back in 1937. An Irish company called ‘A Novel Idea’ installed a machine at London’s Heathrow airport, but went out of business. It’s kind of hard to pick out a book when you can’t even read the back cover, but the concept could work with highly recognizable beach-read-type titles that are about the equivalent of junk food for your brain, anyway.