US News and World Report reprinted a press release from the National Science Foundation which announced that, “Nanodots Breakthrough May Lead to ‘A Library on One Chip’.”
A researcher at North Carolina State University has developed a computer chip that can store an unprecedented amount of data—enough to hold an entire library’s worth of information on a single chip. The new chip stems from a breakthrough in the use of nanodots, or nanoscale magnets, and represents a significant advance in computer-memory technology.
“We have created magnetic nanodots that store one bit of information on each nanodot, allowing us to store over one billion pages of information in a chip that is one square inch,” says Dr. Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State and author of the research.
If an average book has 500 pages, then a billion pages is two million books. Given pictures, meta-data and other errata, plus overhead storage costs, perhaps this chip will hold only a million books. Which is still, statistically speaking, a lot. It is even more books than Judge Richard Posner will read in his lifetime.
Now, a million is also a greater number than the number of books of any real value that have ever been published (in English, anyway). Add in copies of journal and magazines, the total quickly swells past our figure. But, in books, this slick chip really could hold a library at least as well stocked as any university’s.
So here is what can happen: working with Google, the company that is scanning and digitizing all written material, Amazon could encode every book written in English (currently published) and store it on this nanochip, which could be part of every Kindle version 3 (or whatever). Doesn’t have to just be in English, of course. Chips can be bought containing libraries in any language. Perhaps the devices will (finally) allow expansion slots for the insertion of other corpora.
Most of these books are in the public domain, but for those that are not, Amazon, working with publishers and authors who hold the rights, could charge a fee to unlock what is already on the device. That is, works under copyright could be locked and inaccessible until a fee is paid by the Kindle owner.
That solves many problems. First, the licensing versus owning problem. Currently, Kindle users do not own their books, they lease them. Having them all on the nanochip could allow users to buy the books, paying a one-time fee—as physical book buyers now pay—to unlock and own the book.
Users thus buy a “key” (which fits only one book), which they should be allowed to resell. This would solve the used book problem: which is that used books—those eminent advertisements for new books—do not exist for e-readers! This is enormous bad news. Without used books, everybody is hurt, even bottom-line obsessed publishers. Amazon should push for this, since many users would opt to re-sell their “book keys” on Amazon itself, the company obviously taking a cut on each sale. Publishers could even work out a deal with Amazon to take a cut of this cut! That would be the first time authors could benefit from re-selling their work.
Thirdly, Amazon and users do not need worry about storage “in the cloud.” All that need to be kept track of is who paid for what. No readers need fear losing a book (presumably, the nanochips, should they break, would be replaceable). We also do not need to fear changing formats. Think how many times you paid for the same song: LP, 8-track, cassette, CD, MP3, etc., etc. Buying a book key should unlock the book in any format. Unless, as often happens, the book is re-issued in a new edition. If users want the new edition, they have to buy a new key—just as when readers have to pay for the new paper edition.
Instead of buying books one by one, the Kindle could download, say weekly or monthly, all new books that are published. Once more, all readers need do is pay to unlock the books they want.
This sound OK to you, Mr Bezos?