One of the Podcasts which I enjoy on a regular basis is the “Economist” and in a recent edition Nassim Taleb (author of: Fooled by Randomness and Black Swans) recorded a guest piece titled “Nassim Taleb on the world in 2036” where he shared what the world might look like 25 years out. One of his predictions was “wall to wall bookcases will still exist” in 25 years from now. This prognostication struck me as a little odd, however being an avid reader decided to think a little about this paradigm as I believe we are close to reaching a tipping point when it comes to the late great printed “paper” book. Because as written in prior posts once critical mass in wood pulp production is lost, the cost will soar further fueling the flight from paper.
Dr Taleb’s basis for this quote was based upon the “Lindy Effect” which is a general rule that says “nothing succeeds like success”. Therefore one can say what technology has been in existence in the past 25 years will be here for the next twenty five (need I say mainframe). However there is a flaw in Dr Taleb’s logic, as the “book” and the “written word” are two different things. As the “book” is the physical embodiment of the written word or “soul” which is contained within the paper confines of the tome.
So if the “written word” has been around for millennia, the book is a rather new edition to the communication continuum if you will at only around 500 years. As if we look backwards, man started out sharing knowledge by carving symbols (i.e. Words) into stone, then he moved on to animal hides, parchments and then paper. Intrinsic in this progression is the means haven’t so much changed, however the “medium” has.
Along these lines while attending a conference a couple months back, I was fortunate enough to have had lunch with a publishing executive from a well known company and the discussion turned to where is the tipping point for the eReader. One of the facts he shared was the text book industry is the largest single consumer of paper pulp. This struck me as odd at first however, after a moment it started to make sense as the production of a text book takes lots of wood pulp and basically it’s produces a repeating consumption pattern as every semester new books are sold creating a reinforcing loop. My lunch partner then shared this steady and high volume consumption of pulp is responsible for the base economic market which keeps general production costs low.
However as he quickly pointed out, academic institutions’ are moving toward the eReader as a platform. The demand for [printed] text books will steadily erode and as a reverse tipping point is reached, there will be a steep rise in pulp costs as the economies of scale due to volume would be lost. At this point, costs in the remainder of the market will follow suit fueling a quickened flight from “paper” based books to eReaders. This in turn will incite a strong negatively moving viral loop with regards to the printed book as the few which are sold will have a greater cost and so on. Thus, within this context the printed word is set to make yet another change with regards to its medium, from stone to electrons…
P.S. As an avid reader, at one time I possessed several thousand bound works enough to fill an entire room of my home floor to ceiling around the entire circumference. Over time I have donated the majority of these books to local libraries and this week I will again donate around 500 books. This will reduce my stock pile to around the same number and of these about another 200 or 300 will go in the next round. The only reason I will keep the remaining two or three hundred books is because they are collectors editions or in some other ways rare. However what’s important is I now have around 2,000 various works stored on my iPad and if you’ve followed my prior posts this is import as:
1. The content stored on the iPad is worth more than the iPad itself giving credence to the “platform” or “venue” theorem.
2. Next came ownership and the fact that “things” own you and not the other way around. Have you ever tried to move homes with several thousand books? I have and it was expensive as not only is there the time and effort to box, move and unboxed. However there is also the storage aspect such as building shelf’s, the extra living space required to house them which then drives up property taxes and so forth.
3. Then there is the static aspect of the printed book, it sits there on a shelf and you say I remember seeing this reference however of the thousands of volumes sitting there which one was it in and what page was it on! With the iPad, all my documents are searchable making it a specialized version of Google ™ if you will as all the document are suited to my interests.
4. As with the MP3, books in electronic format are no longer subject to the need of a future re-buy. Ok, remember the vinyl record, the 4 track (yes I had one), then an 8 Track, Cassette, CD, Mini-Disc, etc. Whew the list is long! Here it is buy and forget and I love Amazon’s Kindle App for this reason as I can sync across multiple devices, store copies in the “cloud” as a back up and provides resources such as word look up no printed book could.
With the departure of this round of books, an entire set of wall to wall, floor to ceiling book shelf’s where removed. The wall was then painted an “Almost Chocolate” (name of the paint) color as an accent to the lighter colored walls on which I plan to hang a number of photographs. Hmmm, should I be thinking about digital frames 😉