Many workaholic Americans’ idea of a good read is to curl up with their laptop and scroll through stories on the Web. In England, where you can rely on tradition, there is something of an underground revival of other kinds of reading. Literally in the underground.
Travelman Publishing, a three-person company based in London, presents commuters with something to read that’s more entertaining than work material but more substantial than the tabloids. In an effort to revive the short-story genre, its vending machines offer one story for 1 pound (about US$1.50) at various stations along the “tube.” Printed on one big sheet and folded like travel maps, the selections feature authors like Ambrose Bierce, O. Henry and Evelyn Waugh, whose grandson, Alexander, cofounded Travelman.
Getting the green and white, 5-foot-tall machines into the subways this past January wasn’t easy. Managing Director William Mollett says he and his coworkers had to go through three years of bureaucratic red tape. Keeping the machines operating smoothly is also a challenge. The rest of this year will determine if they’ll break even and if they want to expand.
With longer work hours and the Web shrinking our attention spans, maybe Americans need a short-story break during their commutes. But would the venture work stateside?
“Anything’s possible,” Mollett says. “But it’s a logistics nightmare. If someone wants to do it for us, that’s fine.”
Travelman recently enabled its website to sell stories online; they cost $3.95 each. Americans can order from the Independent Publishers Group, accessible at www.travelman.co.uk.