Short Edi­tion from France has launched a new lit­er­ary for­mat

Bangkok Post - - LIFE / TECH - LAURA M. HOLSON

Sto­ries are shared many ways. They are re­counted in books and mag­a­zines. They are read aloud around the camp­fire at night. They are ran­domly dis­pensed from stand­alone kiosks, doled out on strips of pa­per like gro­cery store re­ceipts.

Wait, what was that last one? Leave it to the French, with their love of Voltaire and Si­mone de Beau­voir, to re­vive lit­er­a­ture in the era of hot takes, fast news and smart­phone ad­dic­tion. Short Edi­tion, a French com­mu­nity pub­lisher of short-form lit­er­a­ture, has in­stalled more than 30 story dis­pensers in the United States in the past year to de­liver fic­tion at the push of a but­ton at restau­rants and uni­ver­si­ties, gov­ern­ment of­fices and trans­porta­tion hubs.

Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, the film di­rec­tor and wine­maker, liked the idea so much that he in­vested in the com­pany and placed a dis­penser at his Cafe Zoetrope in the North Beach neigh­bour­hood of San Fran­cisco. Last month pub­lic li­braries in four cities — Philadel­phia; Akron, Ohio; Wi­chita, Kansas; and Columbia, South Carolina — an­nounced they would be in­stalling them too. There is one on the cam­pus at Penn State. A few can be found in down­town West Palm Beach, Florida. And Short Edi­tion plans to an­nounce more, in­clud­ing at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

“Ev­ery­thing old is new again,” said An­drew Nurkin, deputy di­rec­tor of en­rich­ment and civic en­gage­ment at the Free Li­brary of Philadel­phia, which is one of the li­braries that got fund­ing from the John S. and James L. Knight Foun­da­tion to in­stall the dis­pensers. “We want peo­ple ex­posed to lit­er­a­ture. We want to ad­vance lit­er­acy among chil­dren and in­spire cre­ativ­ity.”

Here’s how a dis­penser works: It is shaped like a cylin­der with three but­tons on top in­di­cat­ing a “one minute”, “three minute” or “five minute” story. (That’s how long it takes to read.) When a but­ton is pushed, a short story is printed, un­furled on a long strip of pa­per.

The sto­ries are free. They are re­trieved from a com­puter cat­a­logue of more than 100,000 orig­i­nal sub­mis­sions by writ­ers whose work has been eval­u­ated by Short Edi­tion’s judges, and trans­mit­ted over a mo­bile net­work. Of­fer­ings can be tai­lored to spe­cific in­ter­ests: chil­dren’s fic­tion, ro­mance, even hol­i­day-themed tales.

Scott Varner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Colum­bus City Schools in Ohio, said his district will have a to­tal of five kiosks, the first two of which were in­stalled in De­cem­ber. Sto­ries are di­vided into two cat­e­gories: young read­ers and ev­ery­body else. “We want to build ex­cite­ment around read­ing,” he said. “Es­pe­cially among fam­i­lies.”

Short Edi­tion gets sto­ries for its cat­a­logue by hold­ing writ­ing con­tests. It is hold­ing one for stu­dents and fac­ulty at Penn State called “New Be­gin­nings”. Varner asked if the com­pany might hold a con­test for sto­ries about Colum­bus by lo­cal stu­dents and they are con­sid­er­ing it, he said.

“It would be great to have 10th-graders writ­ing sto­ries for third graders,” he said.

Short Edi­tion, which is based in Greno­ble and was founded by pub­lish­ing ex­ec­u­tives, set up its first kiosk in 2016 and has 150 ma­chines world­wide. “We want to cre­ate a plat­form for in­de­pen­dent artists, like the Sun­dance In­sti­tute,” said Kris­tan Leroy, ex­port di­rec­tor at Short Edi­tion.

We want to build ex­cite­ment around read­ing, es­pe­cially among fam­i­lies

The dis­pensers cost US$9,200 (290,000 baht) plus an ad­di­tional $190 per month for con­tent and soft­ware. The only thing that needs to be re­placed is pa­per. The printed sto­ries have a dou­ble life, shared an av­er­age of 2.1 times, said Leroy.

“The idea is to make peo­ple happy,” she said. “There is too much doom and gloom to­day.”

The first dis­penser in the United States was at Cop­pola’s San Fran­cisco café in 2016. At the time, the di­rec­tor said the sto­ries had the al­lure of clas­sic manuscripts. “I’d like to see the city of San Fran­cisco put them ev­ery­where so that while wait­ing for a bus, or mar­riage li­cense, or lunch, you could get an artis­tic lift, free of charge,” he said.

That hasn’t hap­pened — yet. Nurkin, of the Free Li­brary of Philadel­phia, has high hopes for his city. “We are in­ter­ested in find­ing sites to en­gage au­di­ences who aren’t nec­es­sar­ily com­ing to the li­brary,” he said. So much so, the li­brary is con­sid­er­ing in­stalling dis­pensers at the Fam­ily Court Build­ing and the Philadel­phia In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

“It’s like a lit­er­ary mag­a­zine,” he said. “You don’t know what you are go­ing to get. Who knows? Maybe you press a but­ton and get a story writ­ten by your neigh­bour.”

A cus­tomer at Cafe Zoetrope in San Fran­cisco reads one of the short sto­ries doled out by Short Edi­tion’s story dis­penser.

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