In 7 to 10 years, some bookstores will disappear into the woodwork. These bookstores may become just wall-sized display screens electronically displaying an array of titles, with pictures. Each title may be in its own book-sized rectangle of the display. Customers could use their electronic pens to wand the appropriate title(s) and have it automatically delivered to their portable or home computer and their credit card automatically charged. To allow browsing, perhaps a part of the book is downloaded to the portable first (reviews, description, sample pages, list of previous books written), and the sale goes through if the customer does not discard the preview after half an hour.
Major book chains like Waldenbooks, B. Dalton Booksellers/Barnes & Noble, Crown, Coles, Waterstones, and W.H. Smith's would love such a system. They would love it so much that they may become publishers themselves. They would have little space to rent, no staff salaries, no stock, no warehousing, no transportation, no remainders, no returns, no overhead, no need to reshelve books, no need to discard scuffed books, and no need to insure against fire, theft, or water damage. Further, it is easy to reorganize the display, and the display operates continuously.
These bookstores are interactive billboards. Retailers could put them anywhere people congregate (bus stops, church yards, playgrounds) and even on vehicles (buses, trains, planes, ships).
When books are electronically distributed, a publisher (or retailer) can produce catalogs that are really databases with a front-end program to help customers query the catalog. The top level display might be a menu of all the subjects the publisher (or retailer) groups their books by. Customers move through the catalog searching for books they want, and can immediately receive them (and pay for them).
Such a catalog would also be cheaper than print. A typical 64-page print catalog destroys trees and costs over $2 per catalog, a disc version for several apparel companies costs $1.28 per disc, including production and mailing .
The catalog can instantly reflect demand for each title. The Italian apparel company Benetton uses its worldwide system to determine the demand for each fabric, and what color it should be dyed for the next week's fashions. Benetton has drastically reduced inventory and lost sales. The publisher (or licensed retailer) can print some fraction of the demand for each title to service the paper trade. The electronic service acts as a market sample, giving a more accurate estimate of demand than today's print run system.