The SuKuLTuR Years by Marc Degens (trans. Tess Lewis) tells the true story of the rise of a publishing empire. From a chapbook about a ganglion cyst to vending machine industry trade fairs to innovation awards, SuKuLTuR (yes, that is quite hard to type) has conquered the market for very small books in snack vending machines, especially in Berlin.
The publishing house puts out a delightful list of mainly contemporary German writing - poetry and prose by writers you've never heard of and a few you have (my favourite being David Wagner), either 16 or 24 pages long, called Schöner Lesen. The English translation is no. 125, soon to be followed by a couple of books in Spanish. If you're in Berlin, you've probably noticed the bright yellow books, inspired by those small-format Reclam bargain paperbacks, alongside the peanuts and waffles in vending machines on station platforms. Or if you're on Sylt you may have noted they have a whole machine to themselves. There's also a vending machine entirely for paperbacks, including SuKuLTuR's, somewhere in the caverns of Alexanderplatz station. I'd like to encourage anyone learning German to insert the €1 in the slit, because the books offer good quality writing and I almost guarantee you'll get them finished. Or buy the e-books.
If you're in Hamburg, you could look out for the Hamburger Automatenverlag, a newish venture selling small books, mainly non-fiction I believe, in refurbished cigarette vending machines. At €4 a pop, they're cheaper than fags but still make you look cool.
I looked into the history of selling books in vending machines, and found the Penguincubator - a machine apparently invented by Allen Lane to sell Penguin's paperbacks in unusual locations at some point after 1934. But I also found the Reclam Buchautomat, a vending machine for those German classics in affordable editions originally published out of Leipzig. The first one was set up in 1912 and contained about 80 different books, although only 12 were displayed at any one time. By 1917 there were 2000 of these machines around Germany, which stayed in operation until about 1940.
I love the whole thing, especially the design of the machines (click the various links for pictures). And I like the fact that these small books adapt so perfectly to electronic formats. Of course, if you like your teeny books in English, you can now get them from Readux. Come to the launch tomorrow! I have a rather many copies of The SuKuLTuR Years to get rid of.