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Dystopian Timeline for Print Books

TechCrunch has published this potential scenario:

The Future Of Books: A Dystopian Timeline

“2013 – EBook sales surpass all other book sales, even used books. EMagazines begin cutting into paper magazine sales.
2014 – Publishers begin “subsidized” e-reader trials. Newspapers, magazines, and book publishers will attempt to create hardware lockins for their wares. They will fail.
2015 – The death of the Mom and Pops. Smaller book stores will use the real estate to sell coffee and Wi-Fi. Collectable bookstores will still exist in the margins.
2016 – Lifestyle magazines as well as most popular Conde Nast titles will go tablet-only.
2018 – The last Barnes & Noble store converts to a cafe and digital access point.
2019 – B&N and Amazon’s publishing arms – including self-pub – will dwarf all other publishing.
2019 – The great culling of the publishers. Smaller houses may survive but not many of them. The giants like Random House and Penguin will calve their smaller houses into e-only ventures. The last of the “publisher subsidized” tablet devices will falter.
2020 – Nearly every middle school to college student will have an e-reader. Textbooks will slowly disappear.
2023 – Epaper will make ereaders as thin as a few sheets of paper.
2025 – The transition is complete even in most of the developing world. The book is, at best, an artifact and at worst a nuisance. Book collections won’t disappear – hold-outs will exist and a subset of readers will still print books – but generally all publishing will exist digitally.”

As with all scenario planning exercises, this one is interesting. It will engage some people emotionally and others on the statistical data side and others still on the technology underpinnings.  As with all scenarios, they’re not meant to be absolute predictions but a straw man to model potential futures and our reactions or involvement in them.

So this one is an excellent place to start a discussion amongst library staff and associations.  What can libraries do to encourage or discourage this scenario?  What is good and bad about it?  Are libraries not about reading and don’t really care about format, but if format disintermediates libraries . . .?  Anyway, I find this scenario a great exercise.

Is this really dytopian from the reading perspective (or the tree’s)?



Posted on: September 28, 2011, 12:01 pm Category: Uncategorized

6 Responses

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  1. Robert Noise said

    It will certainly be dystopian for those who must clean up after the waste we will produce with this change in our format. And the earth in general as it processes the waste. As to books as artifact, you miss that bookmaking will in fact become an art form, like calligraphy before it. Making libraries redundant (which is the word Mr. Tapscott, who I remember inventing disintermediation, couldn’t find in his thesaurus)? It is possible, but doubtful. People like sifters and libraries can position themselves as information sifters. If we don’t Google and Mr. Zuckerberg certainly will.

  2. Pat Gracey said

    Don’t get me wrong I love e-books, and I agree HC and paperback sales are going to take a big hit. No doubt we’re in a brave new world alright, but books are just too dang easy to use! And when it comes to striking the right balance between convenience, portability storage AND solid state, acid free paper is still hard to beat. Sure you can take 200 e-books on your three week vacation, but are you really going to read them all? At least with books there’s no reliance on having an available power source handy, you can drop them down the stairs and still use them, and you don’t have to depend on making sure you have all your techno ducks in a row (correct format, up to date software, synchronised components etc.). Books don’t require upgrades, (and if you’re thinking a new edition constitutes an upgrade, you still have to buy the new e-edition too). It may be a bad idea to read a book while enjoying a long soak in a hot bath with a double scotch, but one should have the option of being a bad boy/girl without risking cardiac arrest. And when the physical book’s overdue, you can opt to keep reading it and pay a fine (again the bad boy/girl option).

  3. I love e-books, too but sitting at home with a Kindle and home brewed coffee will never be as exciting as going to the bookstore. That is why I always deeply regret the loss of places where exemplars of printed books can be found and browsed.

  4. This particular dystopian future – which has not happened yet – is limited by a dystopian actuality: electricity is neither ubiquitous or reliable in the Global South. Think about it. The foundations of modernity didn’t require most of what we take for granted today; Newton & Liebnez (sic) didn’t need computers to devise calculus, then needed (and had developed) prepared minds. No doubt that tablets and e-readers can help prepare the mind. Most people living in the past and the present will prepare their minds without gadgets. They have no choice.

  5. Paula Deal said

    How will libraries lend content? Will we need to go to a physical building or just log onto its website and borrow our ebooks. Will libraries be able to afford all the copies needed. Will make it easy to have everything. Sure changes book selection and weeding if there is no physical space limitations. I do not want to think that there would be a world with no libraries and reading would again be a pasttime for the rich.

  6. Paula: Most libraries already lend e-books through their websites. The challenge is those publishers who won’t let libraries license their e-books.