After Hours

Peter Cochrane's Blog: It's the end of the line for the printed word

We're reading through the final pages of the paper book...

Amazon's Kindle Fire

Everywhere you care to look - on trains, planes and boats - ebook readers are outnumbering paperbacks and hardbacksPhoto: Amazon

Written in a deckchair on the beach at Key Largo, Florida, and dispatched to silicon.com via a free wi-fi service at 2.2Mbps the same day.

I have just driven a fair distance down the length of Florida to the Keys for a short vacation far away from the British winter. And I have seen a significant number of book stores closed and vacant - including my favourite USA chain that also used to sell good coffee.

It's not often that I get to relax totally, so I've made the most of this past week - spending hours by a swimming pool where I could reflect on many aspects of the past year.

One trend was highlighted again today. Of eight people sunbathing and reading around the pool, only two had paper books - and one of those was me. My excuse is that I had been running a conference in Miami and was given a book on quantum mechanics. Otherwise there would have only been one paper book in evidence.

The situation by the pool reinforced a series of observations garnered on trains, planes and boats where the number of ebook readers outnumbered paperbacks and hardbacks.

Market statistics show an accelerating decline in paper book sales of 34 per cent year on year, while ebook sales are growing exponentially and are more than tripling year on year.

So the question is have we reached the tipping point in the demise of the printed book? I certainly reached the end of the road with books some time ago. I stopped buying and reading paper books and started insisting on electronic versions. To my delight authors mostly supply electronic copies if they want to engage you in reviewing, editing, commenting or contributing.

As far as I can see the paper book will be relegated to the same shelves as the vinyl record within the next five years. Exponential change is like that - faster than we care to recognise.

Of course, you will still be able to purchase paper books if you are so inclined. After all, you can still find eight-track audio tape and 16rpm records. But the market and the money have moved on with the technology - how could they do otherwise?

So one tip for 2012: don't buy books as gifts. Give ebook subscriptions, and your friends and family will love you for it.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox