It’s 1980, and you’re reading a novel set in a futuristic world that is astonishingly different to the world as you know it. For one thing, in this futuristic world books don’t exist in a physical format; all books are digital, read on various computer devices. Clearly, the book you’re reading is science fiction. But I wonder, do you think the world it describes is dystopian or utopian?
I suspect that many people in 1980 would think a world without actual books is lacking compared to the modern day. In this novel, progress has trampled all over what’s meaningful and valuable. It makes for an interesting read, but no reader is going to get too upset about the plot of the book. It’s fiction. It’s not real. It’s not going to become real, is it?
Fast-forward to 2014, and this ‘dystopia’ no longer looks quite so far away. Last week, PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report predicting that by 2014 UK readers will buy more consumer ebooks than print books. The balance will shift.
How long before sales of ebooks far outstrip those of digital books? How long before more and more publishers decide the cost and effort of print publishing doesn’t make sense in business terms, and move to a digital-only model?
Will print books always exist? Will they become precious collectables like vinyl albums, or die a death like tape cassettes? If the answer is that print is dying, have we really thought through a world without books – physical books we can hold in our hands?
I wonder, in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time, will we see ‘Save the Book’ campaigns, run by people passionate about safeguarding this endangered artistic medium? Would you campaign? Would you fight for a world of books?
If such a world without ‘real’ books is a dystopia, do we have a responsibility now to stop the decline? Should we be thinking beyond cost and convenience, and buying print books as well as digital books to support the continuation of a historic, precious art form?
What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.