NeoMedia coming out with portable price-checker

NeoMedia has just announced a service where you can take a picture of an ISBN code (the barcode printed on every book jacket) with a cellphone camera and be automatically brought the the page for that book. From their press release:

“Now, shoppers can take out their Nokia(R) 3650 camera phone at Barnes & Noble, Border’s, or just about any other book store, and just take a picture of the ISBN on the book to comparison shop at right on the screen of their wireless Web browser,” Jensen said. “It’s kind of a high-tech version of the Santa Claus at Macy’s(R) sending Christmas shoppers to Gimbels in the classic movie, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’,” he mused.

Gizmodo suggests this is Barnes & Noble’s worst nightmare, but I expect it won’t hurt the large chains, as their volume keeps prices fairly close to Amazon’s as it is. It’ll be harder on independent bookstores, but even then there’s a premium that people are willing to pay for a book that’s already in their hot little hands. That premium will be even larger than the usual amount people will pay for bricks-and-mortar convenience because the customer is already in the store — I expect a lot more.

The biggest question for me is whether “now is the time.” I first saw this kind of technology about 6 years ago, both in a class project at MIT and in Anderson Consulting’s (now Accenture‘s) Shopper’s Eye project, and even briefly looked at doing a startup in this area just before the crash. It never quite felt like the time was right for this to go mainstream because the technology wasn’t in the hands of enough consumers. Clearly NeoMedia thinks we’re getting close.