Will the paper book really be dead in five years?
Will the traditional book be dead in five years? According to technology guru Nicholas Negroponte, books printed in paper and ink will cease to exist in that timeframe. The founder of One Laptop per Child said in an interview this week that the conventional book simply won't scale to the volumes it needs to cope with increasing demand from the developing world.
Negroponte, who is also a founder of the MIT Media Lab, developed the One Laptop per Child initiative to get cheap computers to children in far-flung villages in the developing world. Kids in Africa in towns that don't even have electricity can use his solar-powered laptops to consume information and become digitally literate.
He argues that distributing conventional print and paper books to hundreds of millions of people without the infrastructure to support it will be impossible. Far better, he says, to send a laptop with 100 books on it - or 100 laptops, each with 100 different books. That would give children in an African village 10,000 books, which, as he points out, is far more than most of us had in elementary school.
Negroponte says that he much prefers reading newspapers on the iPad rather than in traditional hardcopy. It creates the opportunity to digest more information from more sources, and to get different points of view from a range of different perspectives. He even envisages a system where you could ‘dial in’ the kind of perspective that you wanted to hear in your daily digital newspaper.
Twitter was abuzz with comments from people saying that Negroponte has overestimated the importance of the e-book. The general consensus seems to be that the traditional book will be around for a long time to come. But judging from empirical evidence, he may be onto something.
With developments such as the Sony e-reader (a new one launched recently with a 6 inch touchscreen) and the Kindle, it does seem as though e-books' time has finally come. A plethora of readers is hitting the market, and even retailers such as Barnes and Noble are getting in on the act with their own devices.
We have certainly seen traditional physical formats die out in other areas after suitable electronic devices appeared to replace them. Film company Agfa went bankrupt in 2005 after failing to grasp the shift from chemical to digital photography, for example. And the CD may not be dead, but it's twitching a lot and looking somewhat blue in the face.
But, these things are always more nuanced than we might first think. Chemical photography still holds out in medium and large format studios, for example. And, although CDs may be in for a tough time, their precursor, vinyl, is making a comeback, especially on the independent music circuit.
I imagine that the ebook will take off considerably, not only in the developing world, but also in the developed one. However, there will always be room for the traditional paper book. On my bookshelf now, I can see a handful of large format photography books that I would only really appreciate in their current form. There are also some cookbooks that exist for me more as objects than simply as ways to convey information.
So, while Negroponte is almost right, there will always be a core type of book that we will want to caress, both with our eyes and our fingers. Nicholas, don't take that away from us.
Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets