by David Mendez
Like most Tucsonans, I'm spoiled by the existence of a Bookmans within reasonable driving (or in my case, walking) distance. Typically, I'll wander through the stacks, searching for one particular book by one particular author—whether it be an obsession with finding new-ish Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, or David Foster Wallace on that day—and I'll give up upon not finding my target, completely ignoring the rows of fascinating books that are lay on those shelves. I imagine I'm not the only person who does this, either, meaning that (guessing off the top of my head) thousands of Tucsonans go home without a spectacular bit of reading material each week.
Well, Canadian used bookseller The Monkey's Paw has a solution for that: Enter the Biblio-Mat, a vending machine specializing in offering up a random used book in exchange for a measly $2.
Quill & Quire, a book-centered Canadian magazine, has an interview with the owner of The Monkey's Paw, Stephen Fowler here, where they get a look at the inspiration behind the machine, and a touch of his philosophy:
What is the story behind the Biblio-mat? I went fishing this past summer with Craig Small, co-founder of The Juggernaut, an animation studio in Toronto. I had this idea that I would love to have a vending machine that gave out random books. I pictured it as a painted refrigerator box with one of my assistants inside; people would put in a coin and he would drop a book out. But Craig is more pragmatic and visionary then I am. He said, “You need to have an actual mechanical vending machine.” That was beyond my wildest imaginings, but not Craig’s, so he just built it for me.
What books are stocked in the Biblio-mat? The books in the machine are two dollars each — that’s not enough to make any profit, but the nature of the second-hand book business is that I end up with a lot of books that are interesting and worth keeping and disseminating, but have no practical retail value. Historically in the used books trade there has always been the dollar cart in front of the store. This is just a spin on that.
Personally, I'd love to have a similar machine in my tiny hallway of an apartment, if only for the ease of deciding which to pull next from my immense to-read pile of books.
For the rest of the interview, check out Quill and Quire's write-up here — and if you've seen anything else booksellers have done that's similarly clever, share it below.