Canada has the world’s first — and possibly only — randomizing antique book vending machine.
For only $2 the Biblio-Mat will spit out an “old and unusual” book at random.
It resides at The Monkey Paw, a vintage book store in downtown Toronto on Bloor Street W. near Lansdowne.
Stephen Fowler, owner of The Monkey Paw, says people can’t get enough of it.
“People use the machine every day, people come visit us from all over the place,” said Fowler. “Sometimes it feels like the thing is just running non-stop all day long.”
Fowler estimates that Biblio-Mat dispenses about a 100 books a week on average but could fluctuate depending on the time of year.
Customers come in with stacks of toonies during the Christmas season, feeding them into the Biblio-Mat for quick and random gifts for their family and friends.
He says he gets frustrated when people take advantage of the $2 price point and wondered whether he should bump it up.
Finding books for the Biblio-Mat takes a lot of work.
Fowler says he’s probably barely breaking even after calculating the cost of travel and time to find books for the vending machine.
“There’s something interesting about every single one of them,” said Fowler. “They’re not actually junk. There are many books I reject as not good enough for the Biblio-Mat.”
Demand for Biblio-Mat books is high and ever since its invention in 2012, the random book vending machine has become a must-see tourist destination.
Back in 2012, The Monkey Paw was doing quite well, according to Fowler, and he started to accumulate too many older books he felt he couldn’t sell on his shelves.
“I was ending up with a lot of books that were old and legitimately interesting, books that I felt deserved a second life,” said Fowler. “But [they] weren’t quite up to par with being the sort of things we sell off the shelves.”
“[These] books, in many cases, were too obscure or too peculiar to really sell to regular customers at full price.”
Fowler had a solution.
For a local street festival, he wanted to create a fake vending machine out of a refrigerator box, which would have had a man inside distributing books to people through a slot — depleting his overstock of mostly useless books.
He told his friend Craig Small — who he calls a “can-do genius” — about his idea but Small convinced him he needed the genuine thing.
“Craig said ‘no way, man, you need to build an actual vending machine, like a mechanical functioning vending machine,’” recalled Fowler. “So that was beyond my capabilities but not beyond Craig’s and a few months later he wheeled the Biblio-Mat into the shop.”
It didn’t take long for The Monkey Paw’s new attraction to gain the attention of news media and visitors around the globe.
So how does it work?
Fowler was generous enough to share a few details on the general mechanisms of the Biblio-met.
There are three stacks of books in the machine: small, medium and large books.
Three separate winch motors lift the books up at random and once it hits the retaining wall, a book drops and the machine shuts off.
It’s built in such a way that customers never know which book they’re going to get.
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