Has the hype surrounding eBooks grown severely overblown? Absolutely, states technology writer Christopher Mims at MIT’s Technology Review, who writes the exuberance around the Kindle and iPad is little more than an effect of an accelerated hype bubble. Mims writes, “Tech pundits recently moved up the date for the death of the book, to sometime around 2015, inspired largely by the rapid adoption of the iPad and the success of Amazon's Kindle e-reader. But in their rush to christen a new era of media consumption, have the pundits overreached?”
Mims states that the next step in the hype cycle is the inevitable trough of disillusionment, and argues that tech pundits are disingenuously stating their case to hasten the end of the printed book. Mims fingers Nicholas Negroponte and ClearType inventor Bill Hill as two of the barbarians eager to see the death of the printed word, citing Hill’s statement that “I've reached the point where I'd be glad to ditch thousands of paper- and hard-backed books from my bookshelves. I'd rather have them all on an iPad.”
Mims predicts a backlash to this excessive futurist excess, writing “…unlike the move from CDs to MP3s, there is no easy way to convert our existing stock of books to e-readers. And unlike the move from records and tapes to CDs, it's not immediately clear that an ebook is in all respects better than what it succeeds…If the bustling, recession-inspired trade in used books tells us anything, it's that old books hold value for readers in a way that not even movies and music do. That's value that no ebook reader can unlock.”
Mims presents a useful and trenchant argument, one echoed by the commenters at Melville House Publishing’s MobyLives blog. Certainly, eBooks are experiencing a fair amount of backlash already, from bibliophiles, authors, readers, and tech writers including myself, who are frustrated with the DRM and arbitrary limitations placed upon this technology.
That said, the “trough of disillusionment” that Mims writes of is only the third stage of the traditional hype cycle. If eBook adoption follows this model, the slope of enlightenment (when the hype dies down and the technology matures) and the plateau of productivity (when the mature technology becomes widely accepted and culturally ubiquitous) are yet to come. And while it’s true that the revolutionary pronouncements tech pundits make about the death of the print book are overblown, ridiculously grandiose pronouncements are nothing new in the industry, and should always be taken with a grain of salt. People will still be stocking their bookcases in 2015, contrary to the claims of the pundits Mims cites such as Nicholas Negroponte, and it’s likely that the bookcase will still be a familiar sight in 2030. The real question is when eBook adoption eclipses that of print books (a touchstone Amazon claims has already been reached, though they conveniently ignore the many ways print books are distributed, such as through used booksellers, libraries and sharing among friends.) The point at which eBooks reach the plateau of productivity has yet to come, and it’s still an open question whether that will be five, ten or fifteen years from now.
Kindle Book-Case photo via trendOriginal