When skimming the library-related news, I came upon bit after bit about the “death of the book.” Everyone from Nicholas Negroponte to Jeff Bezos to every over-excitable librarian who wants to seem profound is predicting it.
Jeff Bezos told us this summer that Kindle books outsold hardcover books for the first time this year, and predicts they’ll outsell paperbacks by the end of next year. At first, we weren’t told how many of each were sold or how the sales of both were dwarfed by paperback sales. He also didn’t bother to point out the very obvious pricing differences, either. A question critical, informationally literate librarians might ask is, Why would anyone pay attention to anything Jeff Bezos says about ebooks?
It’s not like he doesn’t have a very obvious agenda: plugging his proprietary ebook reader. It’s not like he’s some neutral trend analyst. And yet, Negroponte cites Bezos’ claim when predicting the death of the physical book.
I find it amusing and startling that anyone is taking any such predictions seriously, especially librarians who are supposed to be critical about such claims.
I find it amusing because none of this is news at all. All these predictions barely count as information. Such announcements from Bezos or Negroponte are so much hot air. There’s nothing really there.
I find it startling because so many people seem to take any of this guff seriously, thus demonstrating how gullible and hungry for stimulation they are.
The book will be “dead” when the book is dead. Until then, everything we hear about the book dying is utterly meaningless as a statement of fact. These seers might as well be saying, “Opaque transparent books masticate harmoniously.”
Bezos is a smart fellow, and is cleverly trying to promote the sale of Kindle books as the future of reading, but I suspect the only way Kindle books will outsell paperbacks at Amazon is if Amazon drastically lowers the price of the Kindle and the books or if they just stop selling paperbacks.
If Amazon stopped selling paper books entirely, then Kindle books would outsell all other kinds of books. Would this be the “death of the book”? If people buy at least the same number of paper books as they do now for the indefinite future, but buy even more ebooks, is this the death of the book? Based on the Bezos logic, it just might be.
Negroponte thinks that within five years most new books will be ebooks. Does that include the entire world, or just America? Will everyone in Africa be reading ebooks on those dinky “one laptop one child” machines? Are publishers all over the world going to convert to ebooks?
And even if paper books do “die,” who cares? If the technology achieves perfection, then maybe paper books will die. So what?
Unlike consumers of light entertainment, most books I want to read are not available as ebooks for mobile readers, but if someday they are, and are affordable, so much the better. I could clear a lot of space in my apartment now filled with books and dedicate the shelves to that Precious Moments figurine collection I’ve always wanted.
The “death of the book,” if that doubtful state ever arrives, will mean nothing to most people anyway, since they don’t read. It won’t make much difference to most readers, either, since that’s what they’ll be used to reading.
People love baseless predictions, but I have one that’s guaranteed to be right. The physical book will die someday. I guarantee it. You can quote me on it, and if I’m wrong, I will pay each and every one of you a million dollars, thus depleting the vast sums I’ve built up by writing the Annoyed Librarian.
Global warming will eventually get us. In a billion years or so, the sun will have brightened enough to burn water and life off of the earth. A few billion years after that, the sun will steadily expand until it engulfs the earth and turns it into a charred cinder. If physical books are still around then, I will be very surprised, and you all will be a million dollars richer.
Until then, what difference does it make?