More tech news: Will the book survive? Bookstores? People?
Digital books will outsell traditional books by 2018, according to The Bookseller.com, thus ensuring a livelihood for multitudes of starving children at toxic landfills all over South Asia, reports E-Reads.com. Meanwhile, a Cambridge, Mass., bookstore debuted the first “library-quality” print-on-demand machine yesterday, says the Los Angeles Times. Who has a wooden shoe when you need one?
Ah, well, the wooden shoe gambit didn’t work for the Luddites, either. Book technology frog-marches us into a brave new future, ready or not.
As The Bookseller and Publishers Weekly report, a Frankfurt Book Fair poll of 840 publishers worldwide reveals that 50 percent believe they’ll be making more money selling digital books than printed books by the year 2018.
Digital books — read on computer screens, dedicated devices like the Amazon Kindle, or even cell phones — currently account for less than 10 percent of publishers’ revenue.
Publishers are struggling to develop business models and pricing structures for this e-book revolution, PW says. But more than 80 precent welcome “the radical change,” according to the Bookseller.
“The one true business model is still a long way off and investments are also still being held in check,” said Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair. “At the same time, however, the fear that content will only be distributed free of charge on the Web in the future seems to have been averted for the time being.”
Does that sound like whistling past the graveyard to you?
E-Reads, meanwhile, reports that with a wave of next-generation e-reading devices coming on the market as early as the end of this year, toxic e-waste dumps will be flooded with discarded Kindles and Sony Readers.
Our must-have reading devices of six months ago will end up in African and Asian landfills, where they will be scavenged for scrap by the desperately poor, many of them children. That’s what’s already happening to our discarded TVs, computers, cell phones and other “e-scrap.”
E-waste scavangers, says E-Read, “incur horrifying and often fatal skin, lung, intestinal and reproductive organ ailments.” As How Stuff Works.com explains, “A whole bouquet of heavy metals, semimetals and other chemical compounds lurk inside your seemingly innocent laptop or TV.”
A recent New York Times story reports e-trash from Europe — which is supposed to be recycled according to European standards –is instead shipped illegally to Africa and Asia, especially China. Does anyone think American e-trash has a different destination?
And isn’t dumping our poisonous junk on the helpless poor in faraway lands yet another form of imperialism? Just asking.
But maybe the problem of e-trash will be rendered moot, at least in terms of books, by the long-anticipated advent of print-on-demand publishing.
The Harvard Bookstore, an independent store in Cambridge, Mass., debuted the Espresso instant book machine yesterday in a ceremony featuring acclaimed novelist E.L. Doctorow, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Made by a company called OnDemandBooks, the Espresso can download, print and spit out a “library-quality paperback book” in under four minutes. If the Espresso catches on, it could solve many problems for the publishing industry, including distribution. Books are now printed at central locations and trucked at great cost and trouble to bookstores.
But at $75,000 each, the Espresso may be too pricey for most embattled independent bookstores. Besides, it can be set up anywhere –a mall kiosk, the post office, Wal-Mart. As Vermont bookstore owner Lynne Reed told the Washington Post at BookExpo in June, bookstores are doomed.
“I think the publishing industry will have to change, but it’s still a viable industry,” she said. “Whereas bookselling — nah. In 20 years, there won’t be bookstores. Science fiction is coming true. You’ll go into a house and you won’t see any books.”
Makes me very grateful for all the books I’ve accumulated in half-a-lifetime of reading. You’ll pry my books from my cold, dead fingers! Hey, I just wrote a bumper sticker!
But let’s end on a slightly less suicidal note. Futurologist Mike Shatzkin told the Post that news of the printed book’s demise has been greatly exaggerated. Or at least, somewhat exaggerated. Or a little overstated.
“I mean, I don’t know how many billions of them we have on the planet; we’re not going to suddenly burn them all,” Shatzkin said to Post reporter Bob Thompson.
“As for manufacturing new ones, well, the traditional press run may be facing extinction, but with print-on-demand technology, Shatzkin said, ‘pretty much as long as anybody wants a book they’ll be able to have a book.'”