Vending Machine? In This Case, The French Have Words for It

Associated Press
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

PARIS -- 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 bookstore chain that installed 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. Such classics as "The Odyssey" by Homer and Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" share the limited shelf space with such practical offerings 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 at four busy Metro stops and on a chic street corner in central Paris, Maxi-Livres' devices don't utilize 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 vending machine market, which supplies everything from toilet paper to carnations.

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