Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
As a former étudiante étrangère in Paris, the wonder of travel within Europe constantly gives me a case of le sigh.
I miss the high-speed trains, the ease with which one could jump a country—or a continent. Coming back home, I traded the Métro for the MBTA, swapped paying 25€ to fly between countries to paying $50 just to stow a bag. No matter that sometimes said international flight was boarded from a circus tent in the middle of a field. I’m looking at you, Ryanair, and your smorgasbord of cheap, cheap thrills. (Although to be fair, travel by bus is equally as horrifying on both sides of the pond. Ask me about being stranded at a remote Belgian Shell station sometime.)
Now European travel has firmly cemented its superiority in my mind: in Spain, the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Government Railways) has just introduced “reading trains,” on which readers can use a handy QR code to download the first chapter of popular books. An article on Springwise explained the deal:
On 13 April, the rail service teamed up with book publisher Random House to place posters on the exterior of the central carriages of ten services traveling between Vallès Oriental and Baix Llobregat. Each poster encourages commuters to join the ‘reading train’ and once inside, interior posters provide riders with a selection of 40 book titles from which the first chapter can be downloaded via their respective QR codes. According to El Periódico, authors on the list include Spanish language writers such as Ildefonso Falcones, Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as well as translated works by John Le Carré and Umberto Eco. The scheme is set to run for two months and will be repeated three times a year until 2016, with hopes to expand to include works from other publishing houses.
Qué guay! I would love it if the T offered me book teasers instead of just trying to get me to submit myself for psychological studies (can’t, left-handed) or convert to veganism (veni, vidi, I love bacon).
I just upgraded my old dumbphone for a new Android model for all my distraction and navigation needs, and am already fascinated with QR codes. But this news did more than make me miss Europe. It made me start thinking about the potential for such things right here in the United States—and how we might even use them for profit.
The Spanish Bibliotren is a great cause because the rail service is trying to promote literacy. But it’s not offering a service you couldn’t already get on Amazon. It’s just offering it in a really convenient and pleasing way. Admit it. Snack bars are way totally more fun when they’re on a moving train. Bookstore? Even more so.
Furthermore, it doesn’t look like the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya is selling these titles, just providing previews. But what’s stopping the rail service from becoming a bookseller? What if more businesses decided to sell ebooks through the completely easy and no-hassle vehicle of QR codes? Could we be seeing exclusive ebook deals offering us access to ebooks in the businesses we frequent every day, like the train, Target, Starbucks? The coffee emporium already offers CDs, and I have to put those in a CD player. Can’t just wave my phone at it and, voilà, album. Somebody should really get on that.
Clearly news of the Bibliotren took my imagination on a bit farther ride than at first intended. But I think the service’s offering is a great move to promote literacy—and a potentially lucrative business model.