In his 1979 book, The Micro Millennium, Christopher Evans predicted that due to electronic media, “the 1980’s will see the book as we know it, and as our ancestors created and cherished it, begin a slow but steady slide into oblivion.” The book “as we know it,” aka the physical book managed to survive the 80’s (in your faces Betamax, IBM’s PCjr, and New Coke!), but just last month Amazon reported that e-book sales for its Kindle outsold hardcover books. Could it be true? Has the death knell for the book arrived?
First of all, while I concede that sales for e-book readers are on the rise, let’s not kid ourselves either, Amazon, the creator of the Kindle, are the ones who released the report but do not release the actual Kindle sales figures. They also currently represent 50% of the market share for e-book sales so they want to look successful. However, now computer scientist Nicholas Negroponte is starting to put the nails on the coffin, placing the death of the physical book sometime in the next five years.
At a tech conference on Friday, Negroponte pronounced the physical book dead and acknowledged that the death of the book was not something the public was ready to hear (maybe he should’ve told us the book ran away or went to live on a really nice farm, like my old dog). To soften the blow, Negroponte referenced the film camera and music industries, their physical formats dying but the concept living on in digital format. “It’s happening. It not happening in 10 years. It’s happening in 5 years,” Negroponte was quoted as saying.
If so many are choosing e-books over the physical book, perhaps the writing is on the wall and it is time to start mourning the death of all print media. Print news got just a little bit deader as it was reported that the American public would not support a monthly tax to help the struggling newspaper industry. I suppose this makes sense as we didn’t do anything to prevent television taking over radio’s dominance and the government didn’t help bail out the Victrola industry.
But five years? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Copyright will certainly make the journey interesting as will the differing formats of the competing e-readers, but I can imagine like any previous technology battle one will end up prevailing, yet who will it be?