Pop Culture

Vending machines serve up helping of books

Readers craving Homer, Baudelaire or Lewis Carroll in the middle of the night can get a quick fix at one of the French capital’s five newly installed book vending machines.

“We have customers who know exactly what they want and come at all hours to get it,” said Xavier Chambon, president of Maxi-Livres, a low-cost publisher and book store chain that debuted the vending machines in June. “It’s as if our stores were open 24 hours a day.”

Stocked with 25 of Maxi-Livres best-selling titles, the machines cover the gamut of literary genres and tastes. Classics like “The Odyssey” by Homer and Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” share the limited shelf space with such practical must-haves as “100 Delicious Couscous” and “Verb Conjugations.”

“Our biggest vending machine sellers are ’The Wok Cookbook’ and a French-English dictionary,” said Chambon, who added that poet Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal” — “The Flowers of Evil” — also is “very popular.”

Regardless of whether they fall into the category of high culture or low, all books cost a modest $2.45.

Installed in four busy Metro stops and a chic street corner in central Paris, Maxi-Livre’s distributors were designed to bypass the characteristic vending-machine-drop, which can be punishing for books.

“We knew that French bibliophiles would be horrified to see their books falling into a trough like candy or soda,” Chambon said. “So we installed a mechanical arm that grabs the book and delivers it safely.”

Books are but the latest offering in France’s ever-expanding vending machine market, which is responding to off-hour demand for everything from toilet paper to carnations.

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