Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Five years?

by John

If you’re like me, you’re probably getting tired of the whole ebook/print debate. But even so, I had to take note of this assertion from Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop per Child, on CNN that not only will physical books disappear, but that they’ll be gone in five years.

Five years? Really? To be fair, while Negroponte appears to mean this statement generally, his evidence rests firmly on his work in Africa, where he sees ebooks following the ubiquity of cell phones in developing nations. And indeed, if a society with no access to or history with any book format is suddenly given the choice between a bunch of dusty old tomes or a laptop with thousands of titles, the winner seems obvious.

But again—five years? While I’m sort of impressed by the sheer brazenness of Negroponte’s prediction—this is the first time I’ve seen an actual expiration date for the printed book—it does seem a bit hard to swallow, for any number of well-discussed reasons. I guess the only true way to test Negroponte’s theory is to check back with him on October 2015 and see what formats we’re reading. But then again, maybe Negroponte’s talking head days will be over in, oh, 2 ½ years? Maybe CNN will be gone in 4? The internet in 3 ¼?


  1. If books are gone in 5 years, I will no longer be reading in 5 years. But I doubt Negraponte is correct, for western societies, at least.

  2. I think it'll be nearer 10 years, but 5 years is a long time in the digital space. By then, Kindle-type devices could be around the £30 ($47) mark, and if ebook prices end up at $5/6 or less, I can see it happening.

    I haven't bought a physical book in a while.

  3. I agree with Kurt. People on Twitter responded to Jason Pinter's question yesterday. He asked e-book readers how many print books they buy or if they still do. Many replied they don't unless it's a series or collection.

    I used to buy 100 print books a year without question. I'm down to 5 now per year. Everything else is electronic. In five years I probably won't be buying print.

  4. On the other hand, I was an early adopter of the Kindle. My husband suspected that I'd lost my soul, and swore he would never be sucked into that particular deal with the devil.

    He took delivery on his Kindle last week and loves it.

  5. Sounds like the plot for a great dystopian thriller:

    It's 2015, and physical books have disappeared. It's up the scrappy literary agents of DGLM to find out why.

  6. The same way Blu-ray coexists with DVD, and CDs coexist with iTunes, printed books will coexist with e-books. They'll find their equilibrium. There are just certain things you cannot do with an e-book, and vice versa, that necessitates the existence of both mediums.

  7. Martin above me made the point I wished to make. People still buy CDs. They sell in much smaller quantities now that we can buy mp3s, but they exist all the same. I expect the same will be true of print books all the while.

    The point about Africa is interesting, though, perhaps because most of the other arguments that have gauged the economics of print vs. electronic seem to view anywhere outside of Europe/North America/East Asia as too primitive for e-readers. Seems like e-readers will only increase literacy, which is awesome!

  8. I have to say I don't agree. I don't think that everyone will change over to a kindle. I have two reasons. One reading on paper is easier on the eyes, and two, it's cheaper to get a large amount of children introduced to books in print than on a kindle. I have a hard time seeing our classrooms filled with kindles and laptops instead of books.


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