Barnes and Noble announced the biggest e-book store on Earth yesterday, just forty-eight years after Stanislaw Lem introduced the idea to patient science fiction fans.
I spent the afternoon in a bookstore. There were no books in it. None had been printed for nearly half a century... No longer was it possible to browse among shelves, to weigh volumes in hand, to feel their heft, the promise of ponderous reading. The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents. They can be read the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it.
But optons were little used, the sales-robot told me. The public preferred lectons - like lectons read out loud, they could be set to any voice, tempo, and modulation. Only scientific publications having a very limited distribution were still printed, on a plastic imitation paper. Thus all my purchases fitted into one pocket, though there must have been almost three hundred titles.
The originals - Crystomatrices - were not to be seen; they were kept behind pale blue enamel the steel plates.... Actually, a great achievement, and yet I regretted the passing of books.
(Read more about Lem's electronic book store)
Lem didn't concentrate on the online distribution aspect in his 1961 story, the notion of networked information distribution having been worked out by Hugo Gernsback a half-century earlier (see the entry for personalized news).
And Barnes and Noble? They intend to have 700,000 titles available for devices like the iPhone and other platforms. BN plans to charge $9.99 for new releases and bestsellers (as Amazon.com does today).
More interestingly, BN plans to partner with Plastic Logic, whose e-reader will be coming out next year. Take a look at last year's prototype version in this handy video.