Are physical books disappearing?

Published:  October 20, 2010
Are physical books disappearing?

Since the introduction of ebooks and, more recently, ebook readers such as the Kindle and the Kobo, physical books have been selling less and less. Now Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop per Child, has told CNN that physical books will disappear in five years. Due to the restrictions of distribution that come with the physical medium of paper books, Negroponte said loading digital books onto laptops is more efficient.

One Laptop per Child sends laptops to third-world countries, with the aim of providing every school-aged child in the world with an internet-connected laptop. “We put 100 books on a laptop, but we also send 100 laptops. That village now has 10,000 books,” said Negroponte.

Back in June 2006, Jeff Jarvis wrote in The Guardian that books would disappear, so this is not a new theory. Negroponte, however, has put a deadline on his prediction. As eBooks gain in sales, and show up in libraries, on the Web, and become more social, physical book sales will continue to decline. If Negroponte is right, in five years time, we will no longer be buying paper books.

12 Responses

  1. I don’t think they will disappear. Nothing beats the smell of a new book or the feeling or holding it when you read.
    I do think they will be more selective of what they put into print. If textbooks were all digital, that would be great for students and their backs! It would also make less waste as textbooks are so often updated they can’t always be sold on.
    I still choose to buy books over digital download and will continue to do so.

  2. No physical books in 5 years please don’t let that be true! Maybe for novels and magazines but larger format books are always going to be wanted… think cookbooks!? Maybe it’s that people are just reading less nowadays with all the distractions? Personally I buy more now than ever!

  3. This site might be of interest in the debate too…

  4. I think many books won’t be available in hard copy very soon as it’s less expensive to distirbute and easier to store an ebook.

    It would be a great shame to lose books in a “material form” as I believe the feel and texture of the book is as much part of the experience as reading the words within it but I do believe that we seem to be moving away from the “material” and towards the “immaterial” as a remarkable pace.

  5. CCelli73

    It sounds foreign to me, but I guess it’s possible. Ebooks are great, but there’s nothing like reading a paper book. I just can’t imagine sitting down anywhere and having to read an ebook on my laptop or iphone. It just wouldn’t feel the same.

  6. SallyJ

    A world without physical books would be very sad indeed. I love the feeling of buying a new book, the physical sensation of crisp new unread pages and it’s a simple pleasure and at the same time always feel like a wonderful indulgence. Whilst I tend not to buy novels that I know I will only ever read once (those I tend to borrow from the library if possible) – other books on art, design, travel, etc are prized possessions I know I will keep for a very long time and can delve into years in the future and still get pleasure from them despite often forgetting I even owned them. Often a bookmark or bent page corner will lead me back to something that had intrigued me previously. Ebooks just won’t have that same capacity to capture what makes a printed book special. Handwritten notes in the margins, dog earred pages, notes slipped in them and forgotten until a later date – nothing can replicate these things.

    Plus as many of us look at a computer screen all day at work, I know myself, I don’t want to be looking at a computer screen when I am relaxing and reading for pleasure. Plus have you ever fallen asleep when reading and dropped the book? My luck I’d drop the Ebook reader or laptop and break it.

  7. Buck

    “If Negroponte is right, in five years time, we will no longer be buying paper books.”

    That’s a shallow extrapolation… Who is “we”?

    Purchasing books for yourself has always been a luxury, and people will continue to afford themselves the indulgence. I think the shift is in putting the libraries of the world at the fingertips of the many. The developing world could completely side-step the bound medium.

  8. Benjamin

    possible, only if we let it.

    Although I am intrigued by the idea of reviving the old ways of book making. They will never disappear for this reason and perhaps the quality for those that care, will be even better.

  9. When Penguin paperback books appeared back in the 1930s the publishing industry was revolutionised. For the first time good quality literature was available at a staggeringly low price due to the very cheap materials used in the production of the books. If eBooks are able to make books even more readily and cheaply accessible to the general public, it’s likely that the situation will reverse. Printed books will once again become expensive, beautifully bound items collected by enthusiasts. The market will change, but I don’t believe that print will ever die out completely.

  10. Never will books be out of print….I believe digital media has some issues of longevity and vulnerability to powerful electro magnetic feilds.
    I fear that an event emanating from the sun could erase all electronic storage and destroy their capability.
    Like many issues we face on the planet, we constantly neglect to consider the impact of nature, and beleive me, planet earth cares not one little bit about your iphone concectivity.
    Wanna save the planet? stop recharging all of these electronic devices.

  11. DW

    Good luck wrapping up a download and making it look pretty under the Christmas tree!

  12. kassy

    Books wont disappear! I love getting away from ym computer screen (which i sit in front off all day) and look through a favourite book or pick up a new one. And as already said… you cant really wrap up a download! But that being said i do belive book sales will decrease… but not vanish all together.

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