2013-03-24-tumblr_ljptghXina1qd9gmoThe first book vending machine appeared in 1822 — according to John Geoghegan in this history of book vending machines, from Huffington Post last year. Since then there have been periodic attempts to make them work. Now we learn of the installation of a couple of digital book kiosks provided by the local library at San Antonio Airport. Can’t library patrons just go online anyway? Maybe not in San Antonio: they spent enough money installing the kiosks.

It seems fairly obvious to me why the book vending machine has never caught on. When people moan about the possible disappearance of the bricks-and-mortar bookshop, what they are really worrying about is how this will make it impossible to browse books and happen upon an unexpected gem. This is how we (most of us) buy books — apart that is from those books we already know we want because we have read a review or gotten a recommendation from a friend. We love bookstores so we can bathe in the plenty, find things we never knew of. When browsing we want to examine the object; look inside; read a sentence or two; consider it in comparison with a couple of other options; and finally make our decision. A book vending machine can only have a small selection — small enough that most of us can pretty much guarantee that none of the books would be the one we might be looking for. Maybe once or twice in your life if you are rushing for a plane and have no time to pick and choose, you might just snap up the first book that comes to hand — but I don’t really think so. That sounds like how you might buy a magazine, not a book.