iPad and the End of Paper Books

Kindle started the trend, and with the iPad now it is clear that books are gradually going electronic, just like music before them.

A few months ago, I banned all music CDs from our house, because all they did was collect dust. We had not touched a CD for years as iPods and iTunes took over. Looks like soon, we won’t touch many books either. Certainly the stack of magazines we read is much smaller than it was 10 years ago. It will be zero in 2020.

I’m sure I have a few books in our collection that won’t be available electronically in 2020, and we can’t rip them easily (unless Google really speeds up scanning …) So I’m not expecting an outright ban like for our CDs. But perhaps our house could do with 1000 or so less books than today. Imagine what we could do with all that space!

But more importantly:

  • Barnes & Noble stores will go the way of the local Blockbuster.
  • Public libraries … perhaps become glorified cyber cafes? Or iPad rental stations? Or go away? Shiny new public libraries worth millions may turn into obsolete dinosaurs much faster than city planners are suspecting.

Eventually, electronic books will also change the school system as we know it. Teachers, at least in the middle and higher grades, already have lost their traditional monopoly on knowledge. There are many students now who know much more about particular subjects than their teachers ever have.

But now image the future text book. iPad and the like will make it possible to go beyond copying the paper into PDF format, so to speak, which is what many electronic school books do today. It just the first step, like putting the equivalent of putting static brochures on the web, as many businesses did in the first years of the web.

Next-generation textbooks will make use of their always-on internet connectivity:

  • to dynamically change the way they teach things based on what works better, based on real-time feedback from their customers
  • to incorporate current events as they occur, e.g. for social study subjects
  • be dynamic, e.g. let students interact with a (virtual) science experiment and see what happens.
  • put more detailed reference information into hyperlinks everywhere over the book, for the more interested students
  • add collaboration tools for more interesting (non-rote) homework…

The possibilities are endless. And at $499, and falling through 2020, very much viable given the cost of textbooks.

Strike off another “cultural institution” — books — for the dust bin. Unlike recoded music, books go back to the beginnings of civilization and in a way define what is history and what pre-history. If this is the end of books, perhaps we are now truly entering post-history.