44: Book vending machine – a terrible idea?


I had a trip recently. I was wandering in the airport before my flight, and realized one thing: Why is bookstore in airport still a thing? And why almost all (medium size or up) airports have at least one bookstore?

Who will buy a book before their flight. Books are so heavy…

And then I immediately remembered I had done it, buying a book in an airport book store, at least three times actually.


I guess if I have done, some other people would do this kind of spontaneous book shopping as well, even though we know the price of the book is full price, if I wait a while, I could probably find a cheaper one somewhere else, outside of the airport.

But why do I have to buy the book?

What about this:

Idea: A vending machine for book rental

I rent a book from airport A, and then return the book in airport B after I land, or I can return the book after my return flight to the same airport.

I can sign up as a member, and then go to a website and browse which airport has what books? I can reserve a book one day before my check in.

Unfortunately, after putting more thoughts. A rental book vending machine in airport is really a terrible idea. Here are the reasons:

1. As an owner, I cannot easily manage inventory. 

Unlike vending machine of snacks or drinks, there are way more possible options of books, and I cannot use the same set of inventory. It may be possible to get some data of what books most people would choose reading during flight, however, I am assuming that is still a very big pool. To some regular customers, I will have to rotate the items in the machine, otherwise, the customer will only use the machine for N times.

2. As a customer, I cannot easily return a rental.

Unless every single airport in the world has a such rental book vending machine, how can a customer know he or she can return the book after landing? If we could place a vending machine all over the world, then it goes back to the question of inventory management.

3. Who are the target users? 

Assuming the target users are people who love to read. Those people most likely have a book they have been reading before the trip, or they own an E-reader. Therefore, the true target users here are the people who only read occasionally. How likely they decide to rent a book before the flight? Some market research is needed here; unfortunately, I suspect the number will not look very promising.

4. Competitors 

With airlines being more open with electronic devices used during the flight, passengers have more ways to be entertained other than reading a physical book, newspaper, or magazine. In my last recent flight, I honestly did not even see any person around me was reading during the flight. If they were not sleeping, they were on a tablet or a phone.

Is there such a thing: Book Vending Machine?

Out of curiosity, I did some search of book vending machine.

Of course they exist. Here is one of the design:

a book vending machine

You can find many other here:


There is an even a video showing how one of the design works:


For a rental book, I will not design the vending machine like that, because showing the book in each slot seems to limit the number of choices that the machine can carry.

I may design the machine like this:

This does not show books in slots. Inside the machine, books are stacked, similar to those stacking garage designs. When a book is requested, the machine will locate the book and move it to the dispatch slot.

Interestingly, a school in United States placed a book vending machine for kids. Here is a full story:


This company offers and claims they have placed such a machine in 6 different schools:


Here is another company offering similar machine:


At first, I feel a book vending machine for kids to use is a great idea.

My kid loves vending machine. Whatever offers from a vending machine seems to be much better from just buying from a grocery store. I guess it’s the idea of choosing, paying and picking up on her own gives her a sense of ownership. When I show her a picture of kids’ book vending machine, she says she love it and she will totally use it.

I then ask her the question: “but you only have 20 books to choose from this machine. Your school has a library, why don’t you just go to the library?” She says: “because in library you have thousands of books to choose, but here is much simpler to make a choice”.

Hmm, it makes some sense. In fact, the same answer can be applied to millions of other things: a vending machine of snacks, a smaller grocery store, a smaller clothing store, or even a small bookstore.

I notice those vending machines for kids are not really using the real money. What about a book rental vending machine in University?

How will book rental vending machine work in University?

We all have bought super expensive academic books and then sold them back to the university book store. Why not a machine can accept your used textbook, and put it in a vending machine, open it for rental?

Or if you have a very good reference book that you have used for a course, you can put it in the machine, describe how it can be used, and what course can benefit from reading this book.

Finally, anyone in University has a lot of other non-academic books, and many people love reading in that age. They can all share by putting the machine for rental.

I actually think this is the most viable option of book vending machine. Next is to figure out how to execute this, including design an app, the machine, and the revenue model.


In this idea, I came up with an idea of book rental vending machine. At first, I thought of putting it in the airport, and then I listed why it was a bad idea. Later, through some research, I decide putting a book rental vending machine in University actually could work.

I have some ideas how the software can work and how we can profit from it, but  I am not sure how the vending machine works. Anyway, I think the idea is viable, but I am not entirely sure how far this idea can go.