A PERFECTLY GOOD PREDICTION.

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Dr. Boli has famously made predictions about the future that have since come to pass exactly as he predicted. He is, however, candid enough to admit that not everything he predicts comes to pass. Sometimes, through no fault of his own, the world simply fails to see the inevitability of the course he has planned for it, and runs merrily off on a different track.

It seems a shame to waste a good prediction just because events have run their own course without it. One of Dr. Boli’s most reasonable and most certain predictions had to do with electronic books. More than a decade ago, he predicted that ebooks would become an important part of the publishing market only when the reading hardware had become so cheap that it was disposable. He envisioned a marketplace in which electronic versions of books were sold as dedicated units, book and reader, at roughly the same price as printed books.

Now, this was a very reasonable prediction. Today, one can walk into any store that carries electronics and walk out with an Android tablet for less than $50—about the cost of two hardcover books. A $50 tablet is anemic for browsing the Web and impossible for processor-hungry games, but as an ebook reader it works just fine. (Dr. Boli has read many books on just such a beast.) And some of the $50 cost comes from components that could be cut out in a dedicated reader—sound, capacitive touch screen, color display, card reader, and most of the internal flash memory, just to name a few. So the idea of technology improving to the point where an electronic reader cost no more to manufacture than a printed book was not at all outlandish; indeed, it seems to be vindicated by the event.

And what could be more plausible than to suppose that readers, accustomed to thinking of a book as a physical object that one owned, would continue to think that way? Ebooks would become popular when they no longer required a profound change in readers’ habits—when, in other words, it was not necessary to make buyers swallow an entirely new concept of “book.”

No matter how Dr. Boli looks at the question, he still comes to the same conclusion. Ebooks would not be popular until they could be bought in the same way books have always been bought since ancient times—as physical objects, in stores that specialize in books. If, therefore, history has taken a different course, it is history, not Dr. Boli’s prediction, that must be blamed for the discrepancy.

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Comments

  1. John M says:

    The big attractions to e-Books are:

    1) Inexpensive small print runs: Once the book is converted to electronic format, there’s little added expense in making it available. Thus, “out of print” may join “floppy disk” as an archaism.

    2) Hard to resell: the publishers like e-Books because they can both prevent people from lending the books to others (or re-selling them via a used book store), and also hope for multiple sales as technology changes and the old e-Books are incompatible with the latest, greatest e-Reader.

    3) Fewer public book burnings: Evil people used to revel in conducting public book burnings – the large bonfire was a dramatic touch. Throwing an e-reader into a fire lacks the drama of burning paper books, and generates toxic fumes for the burners to breathe – instant Karma. Perhaps we’ll see flash mobs simultaneously clicking the “Delete” button on their e-readers some day – but it seems unlikely.

    However, I must admit that I prefer the carbon-fiber-based, environmentally-friendly based single-use book readers currently on the market – even if the pages yellow over time and the pages fall out.

  1. […] Dr. Boli could be wrong. He has been wrong in the past. He was, for example, wrong about ebooks once; and before that, he recalls having been wrong about something to do with Franklin Pierce, though […]

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