Not enough books to choose among? Could be. Book superstores such as Borders may have 150,000 titles and online sources such as Amazon.com claim to offer a million in-print books. But nearly all these titles share one limiting factor: They're in print from American publishers. Readers in search of books published overseas have a hard time getting them, and their usual solutions (like asking globe-trotting friends to bring books back for them) haven't changed much since Gutenberg.The Internet, however, is upgrading that tradition. Barnes & Noble has teamed up with Bertelsmann A.G., the German book conglomerate; they plan to offer books in a variety of languages via Barnesandnoble.com. A spokesman for the venture told The New York Times that customers eventually would be able to order almost "any book on the planet." Bertels-mann also plans its own Europe-based multilingual book site.
In the meantime, Amazon.com has already established two comprehensive sites offering hundreds of thousands of titles: Amazon.co.uk for British works and, on Bertelsmann's turf, Amazon.de for German books (Klicken Sie Hier!). Of course, the Internet has long been teeming with specialized foreign book sites, from a site selling New Zealand's 619 local books in print to one run by an association of Dutch second-hand dealers.
These developments are of significance well beyond the polyglot bookworm community. Old-line gatekeepers may be bemoaning a purported wilting in book culture, as major publishers and critics from Manhattan to Milan lose their prestige and power. Meanwhile, a largely unremarked revolution in cultural opportunity continues. Technology, far from supplanting reading culture, is reinvigorating it: Authors and publishers are able to reach ever more diverse markets, while the choice available to readers grows ever larger. Now it's global, and available to them with a single click.