Monday, May 25, 2009

The Adventures of Amy and the Book Vending Machine

When Ben posted a link on Facebook about a new "Book Vending Machine" in London, I decided to make it a priority on my itinerary.

Now, let me tell you a little something you already know: Vending machines vend things. In the transaction process, they are the vendor. In essence, for any machine to be a vending machine, it must accept money and dispense a product. This brings us to the essential orifices of the vending machine: money slots and dispensing slots. Every proper vending machine has these orifices, just like every human has a food slot and a . . . ahem . . . dispensing slot. The point of a vending machine is to eliminate the need for a vending human to vend things.

That said, when I arrived at the Book Vending Machine (which is inside an actual bookstore—why have a machine in your store "vending" things you already vend?) I was quite shocked about several things.

First, and by "first" I also mean the first time I visited the bookstore to see said vending machine, I was shocked to find the machine walled off in a small alcove—obviously not a place customers were allowed to go. Thus, the "vending" machine required an actual human vendor to do the vending for it. Interesting . . .

Now, during that first visit I also noticed that there were no money slots and no actual customer access to the machine. So far, this monstrosity has failed every test of vending machineness. However, being a generous and understanding woman, I decided that I'd come back in a week, after we'd gone to Paris, and at least experience the joys of having a book printed, just for me, in minutes, right before my eyes. Who cares if I have to have someone else operate the so-called "vending machine" for me. The article (linked above) did use quotes around "vending machine," after all. But perhaps I could get some satisfaction from at least one promise kept.

So when we returned to London from Paris, I made another visit to the Book Non-Vending-but-Printing/Binding Machine. And it was, alas, closed for maintenance. For several hours. So I charitably allowed the machine several more hours to achieve mechanical perfection.

Tim and I made a trip to the Imperial War Museum (which was awesome).

And then I returned to the machine, my hopes not yet extinguished for the Book Machine. I walked the now-quite-familiar path from the Leicester Square tube stop to the corner alcove in Blackwell Bookshop and was delighted to see a very bookshop-employee-looking guy at the helm of my book-in-under-ten-minutes miracle machine (that'll be the last hyphenated adjectival phrase, I swear).

"Hello, I'd like to have a book printed," I said, already fantasizing about the smell of binding glue and the burn of hot printed paper in my hands. The real miracle of the Book Vending Machine, it seemed to me, was it's ability to print/bind/finish and entire book while you're standing there waiting.

And then, "Yeah, there's a backlog, so you can place an order, but it won't be finished for two or three days," said the scruffy idiot of a bookmonger.

So let's get this straight. This machine doesn't accept money or interface with customers (it does not vend). It requires a human vendor to operate it. It's often closed for no reason. Its existence is redundant within a bookstore. And it completely fails to deliver its product with any kind of reasonable speed. This thing is not a "Book Vending Machine" at all; it is a mangy piece of office equipment masquerading as some kind of new technology. It should be ashamed of itself.

Even compared to discovering that the chunnel train was not a transparent sea-life watching adventure, the Book Vending Faker was the biggest disappointment of the trip.


Dirk said...

The bookstore at BYU is getting one of these things. I assumed that there would be some technical/logistical problems with it, but I'm still excited to see it come to campus.

But rest assured that we won't be having "scruffy idiots" working it; the Dress and Grooming Standards will take care of the attributive adjective.

Lisa said...

I love how you tell it--what a faker!

KG said...

I could see use for this machine when refined and more widespread. The efficiencies of eliminating stocks of books and print-on-demand may yet prove to be a disrupting technology. Hope if it does survive, that consumer-friendly features are added. :)