Crystal Ball with WiFi

To tell you the truth, I hung up my prophet’s hat long ago. I was a very good prophet, I thought. I made excellent prophecies. Was it my fault they all turned out to be largely filled with air?

My very first radio interview took place just before the 1976 Presidential election, when I opined that a largely unknown peanut-growing governor could never unseat a sitting President of the United States. I actually followed that four years later with a confident pronouncement that an amiable but elderly actor could never unseat a sitting President of the United States. (Have I ever mentioned that for the first twelve years I voted not a single candidate who was not running unopposed won if I voted for them? I may be the only person in Chicago who offered to sell my vote by saying “For twenty bucks, I’ll vote for your opponent.”)

In my master’s thesis I stated clearly that it would be 2025 or 2030 before laser technology would produce a format that could compete with the reliable vinyl LP, and somewhere around that time I also predicted that Madonna would quickly fade from the music scene, being no more than a cheap clone of Cyndi Lauper.

I could go on, but the point is made. My life as a prophet is no threat to the work of Nostradamus, Jeane Dixon, or Carnac the Magnificent.

So all you people who keep asking me what I think the future of the Book Fair is in a world of Kindles and Nooks (or Noodles or Kooks or whatever else they come up with) would do just as well asking me about your latest perpetual motion machine.

Nonetheless, since you seem to want an answer, I will tell you. We aren’t going to have a world of Kindles and Nooks.

I came to this flash of insight when someone told me, “My 10 year-old and 8 year-old have those things.”

“Oh,” said I, reinforcing a reputation for snappy patter.

“Love ‘em,” he said. “They play games on them and stream movies. Never have seen ‘em read an e-Book, though.”

It struck me at once that we had jumped back a century to the days when phonograph manufacturers were out there making records that could be played only on their device, figuring that if they had the best records, people would naturally come buy their very expensive hardware. It wasn’t until some genius invented a record player with variable speeds and spindle adapters that companies realized the money was in the software. Sure, RCA and Zenith and the others still vied to make the best phonograph, but all the new models could play the standard format and speed adopted by the industry.

I note that Microsoft and Apple haven’t quite reached this point, so I don’t suppose Amazon and Barnes & Noble will either. But the day is coming when the e-reading app will be available for any mobile pad, phone, wristwatch or other device The publisher of an e-Book will matter to you just as much as the publisher of a hard copy does now.

And once the e-Book becomes just another app, we’ve got the whole digital reading thing licked. Between trying to find that app among the 300 or so you’ve downloaded AND realizing that you can just as easily get in a few games of Angry Birds in on the same device, reading will go back to being something you do between the pages of a three-dimensional book, far from the distractions of a host of other e-playthings.

Remember, you heard it here first. And, given my record in prophecy, maybe last.

Comments

I agree whole-heartedly with your prognostication. Now I just need to spend some time boiling down this argument to a succinct two sentences, so I can shut down all the hand wringers who love to talk doom and gloom about the fate of paper books. (Why do readers enjoy that topic so much? It drives me crazy.)

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