Weary commuters waiting on the platform at South Kensington for London's notoriously tardy Circle Line now have a novel way of passing the time. For a single 1-pound coin, they can be transported to more-stimulating locales: Bentinck House, or Matcham Scratchings in Oxfordshire, for example. Literati, of course, will recognize those addresses from stories by Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse, two of the authors whose works are now on sale at a trio of vending machines in the London Underground. The machines are the latest offering from William Mollett, Ned Guinness, and Alexander Waugh (grandson of the late novelist Evelyn Waugh), the gang behind Travelman Publishing. The micro-publishing house, which specializes in the short stories of blue-chip writers like D. H. Lawrence, Dorothy Parker, and Katherine Mansfield, now has 45 titles in print, each presented on a single piece of creamy, high-quality paper that is folded like a pocket-sized map. The tales are just long enough — about 10,000 words — to captivate commuters for a 30-minute ride across London, and the clever page layout is perfect for cramped subway cars. So far, the machines at South Kensington station have yet to match the sales of incumbents such as the WispaBite candy-bar machine or the Snappy Map dispenser. But Travelman Publishing, which has sold more than 350,000 of their mini must-reads at bookstores and newsstands since 1998, isn't worried. Plans are in place to install 50 more machines at stations throughout the London tube. "Selling stories in unexpected places introduces them to a whole new audience," Mollett says. "I'm not sure, though, if we'll ever reach the people who think that Evelyn Waugh was a woman."
Find out more about Travelman Publishing on the Web (www.travelman.co.uk).
A version of this article appeared in the August 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.