Recently I was talking to a friend of mine about Falls the Shadow (if you have no idea what that is, Click Here) and told her that my co-authors and I had based the story on the premise of technology gradually phasing out first hard copy books, then written text all together. Very few people in our story world can actually read, because technology advanced so far that information could be downloaded directly into the human brain without them having to read and learn it themselves.
My friend then asked me a very interesting question: "Do you think that could happen for real? Could technology eventually replace hard copy books and make them completely obsolete?"
I was a little taken aback. To be honest, in spite of the hours I've spent working with my coauthors on Falls the Shadow, I'd never seriously considered the possibility of such a thing happening in the real world. I think it's a legitimate question, though, especially since the advent of the e-book. So here is my attempt at an answer.
Barring 1.) the Second Coming of Christ and 2.) another world war or natural cataclysm destroying the bulk of modern electronic technology, yes--I do think that technology will gradually make hard copy books completely obsolete.
New and better e-readers are being put on the market every time we turn around. The self-publishing world is exploding now that anyone can publish their own book electronically at virtually no cost. A book that would cost $14 or $15 in print can now be purchased electronically for only $2 or $3. If things continue at this rate, I think it's only a matter of time before hard copy books are a thing of the past.
But there are some things that have to happen before that can fully come to pass.
1.) The pre-ebook generation has to die out. A vast percentage of this generation has already joined the ranks of avid e-book users, but there will always be some (like myself) who simply can't come to terms with the idea of curling up in a chair next to the fire or stretching out in a hammock under a tree with a piece of electronic equipment. As more people switch to e-readers and more children are born into the e-book generation, though, the staunch hard-backers will become fewer and fewer.
2.) Bookstores will either close down completely or switch over to become strictly online stores as e-book sales drive them out of business.
3.) Schools, colleges, and universities will switch from hard copy textbooks to e-textbooks sooner or later. If the economy stays bad and schools keep suffering as a result, I'm betting it will be sooner.
4.) Public libraries will shut down due to a combination of lack of interest and lack of government funding.
Hard copy books will be around for many, many years to come, even if only in private collections, yard sales, flea markets, and antique book shops a few decades down the road. I don't think they're all going to vanish by 2020... or even 2030. So don't feel like you need to rush out and start feverishly buying up books before they disappear (although if you're like me, feverishly buying books is just a way of life : ).
Please don't get the idea that I am anti-ebook or anything like that. I think the e-book and e-reader are both great pieces of technology that have made reading 'cool' once again in society and might actually have some good influence on literacy statistics in our culture. I have nothing against e-books as a concept... they're just not for me.
In spite of everything, I daresay that even if hard copy books do become totally obsolete in the future, there will always be a few people who just have the bug--the bug that will only let them be satisfied with good old leather and paper and ink.
There will always be a mysterious few with a streak of something--of rebellion perhaps, or love of antiquity, or maybe just a strange kind of wisdom--running through their character, inexplicably urging them to collect and preserve something everyone else left by the wayside long ago.
And then what a story waits to be written about them!