Practical Technology

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Are the days of books numbered?

Amazon has just announced that in the last quarter it sold 143 Kindle e-books for every 100 hardcover books it sold. Actually, that’s just the tip of the e-book iceberg. You see, Amazon also announced that in the last four weeks, it has sold 180 digital books for every 100 hardcover books. And, of course, that’s not counting free e-books or e-books sold in the Barnes & Noble Nook format, Apple’s iPad format and so on.

Paperback sales still dwarf both, but think about it. E-books have only really gotten popular since Amazon introduced the Kindle less then three years ago. Since then e-book readers, and what I see as their inevitable replacements, tablet computers like Apple’s iPad, have exploded in popularity. Vendors are now aggressively positioning e-books as textbook replacements and, lead by Barnes & Nobles, retailers are slashing e-book reader prices.

At the rate e-book sales are going, I think that the traditional hardbound book might be on its way to being a collector’s item as early as 2015. By 2020, paperbacks may well have joined them there. And, when 2050 rolls around, books may be seen in the same way we now see 78-RPM records — odd historical relics with little relevance to how we spend our lives.

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