The Hamburger Automatenverlag was founded in 2010 by Bettina von Bülow and Martin John, and the concept is innovative and simple: Small books are sold for the price of a pack of cigarettes in former cigarette vending machines. The machines became obsolete when machines capable of electronically verifying the age of the purchaser came into use. But as they were known for their high standard of craftsmanship, Bülow and John decided to put them to another use.
In five vending machines around the port city, readers have their choice of the publisher’s titles , the majority of which were written by Hamburg natives and include poetry, graphic novels, and prose fiction. Each book comes in a small box. For those who don’t want to venture outside to a vending machine on a rainy day, the books can also be ordered here.
But the Hamburger Automatenverlag isn’t the first to sell books from a vending machine. British publisher Allen Lane introduced a vending machine that he called the Penguincubator to train stations in 1934—and the concept was invented in Germany.
In 1912, Anton Philip Reclam—the founder and namesake of the Reclam-Carrée publishing house—invented his book vending machine in Erfurt, Germany. He saw the device as a miniature book store—without the costs of a building and staff. Twelve books could be seen in the machine’s window, each inside an envelope with a short description written on the cover. When one book had been purchased, a different title would become visible behind it—Reclam’s vending machines could hold up to 80 titles. By 1917 there were around 2000 vending machines in Germany. The practice ended in the 1930s when repair costs proved to cost more than the book sales they generated.