When will books printed on paper disappear?

Not that I want them to. I like books on paper.

Some coworkers were discussing the future of books. One of them asked if I thought books would be printed on paper forever. And of course, no, they won’t be – eventually, if nothing else, billions of years will have gone by and everything will be entropic soup. No books on paper then, I’m guessing.

But how long will they last? I’m guessing that we’ll still have them in 100 years. 500 years? I think so, but I don’t really know enough to make an educated guess. 1000 years? 10,000 years? More of same ignorance.

Will books on paper survive as long as humankind? It seems unlikely, assuming that we last a really long time and die out with the Earth, or the solar system.

But I don’t think we’ve seen the killer app that’s going to replace paper yet, either, unless it’s in a truly embryonic form.

Anyone want to guess about the future of pulp fiction (and non-fiction, and poetry, and newspapers…)?

Given that there’s no real way to predict the future…

at least another 300 years for mass publication, indefinitely for small press/“book as art” books… Mind you, they may not always be printed on natural paper; I can see a time when mass production paper will be artificially made as a sort of Tyvek like material.

[I think] it’s pretty obvious that, in the immediate future of probably 50 years, books will be phased out by some sort of electronic “tablet”, like a large pda, or just on a multi-media pda. Using no paper at all, it seems like the ideal alternative to books. Turn the pages* with a button. Increase the text size for easier reading. Online libraries, downloads…piracy… coming soon.

I’m excited for this possible future of reading. Having any book that’s available to the public on the web in digital format will be a tremendous tool, and would probably increase worldwide reading, thanks to the accessibility and convenience.

*actually “turning” the page will probably become an obsolete term, if this is where the future of books is

I think this is likely to challenge dead-tree books, but I have one problem with the idea: will I be able to change the physical size of the electronic book? When I’m reading the 2040-equivalent of a Stephen King novel, I’d like the book itself to be paperback size. If I’m reading an art book with tabloid-sized spreads, I want a tabloid-sized book.

Maybe you’ll just have to buy three or four sizes of text display units to encompass these different uses.

I think the term will linger. We still dial phones, after all.

There has been some discussion about this in science fiction circles. In order for an electronic tablet book to replace a paper book, it would need to have a number of criteria.
[li]It would have to last for hours on a charge or set of batteries – six, minimum, days would be better[/li][li]The screen would have to be readable from full sunlight to a moderately low light condition – providing its own light would be a bonus.[/li][li]It would have to be sturdy enough to take to the beach – a dunk in saltwater might be asking a bit much, but a bit of sand better not gum up the works, nor lying in the sun for a few hours.[/li][li]It would need to be cheap enough that losing it might be annoying, but not traumatic – compare leaving a book on the bus with leaving a PDA.[/li][li]It would be capable of marking your place when you leave off and can return quickly to that place when you pick it up again, and also skip to a page reasonably fast – no hitting ‘next’ 150 times to get to the racy part.[/li][/ul] That’s quite a list, and I suspect it will be a while before all the solutions are found and kinks are ironed out.

The up side is that you can carry around with you a book-sized object that will have dozens, maybe even thousands, of works in it.


On the power question, I think any electronic form of book would have to have virtually perpetual power, supplied perhaps by a combination of ambient light and physical movements, like many watches.

slight hijack

Microsoft is offering free eBooks this summer, releasing 3 titles each week. You have to download their Reader as well but what a great way to try them out!


For me, nothing could ever replace paper books. There’s a certain tactile pleasure that one gets from holding a new, heavy book, and touching its smooth, creamy pages. Not to mention, of course, that delicious “new book” smell. There’s no way a computer could provide these.

I’lll freely admit I’m an odd duck, but I’d gander to say there are quite a few bibliophiles such as myself, for whom the book is also an aesthetic object, not just text. I can imagine there’d always be a market for paper books.

I’m with Lissa I like being able to curl up with a book and take it anywhere and read it anywhere. I have seen a screen yet that you can read in bright light out of doors.

My guess is never - it will be just like horses. Once they were essential for transportation, now they are a luxury for recreation.

Never. And the “paperless office” didn’t come about either.
There’s nothing compared to the heft of a hardback book on your chest while lying in bed late at night.

The only way books will stop being made of paper is when the trees fight back. Sad as I’ll be to see the end of paper, I’m looking forward to man-eating trees.

When will books printed on paper disappear? When they pry the last one from my cold, dead hands is when!

Seriously, though, aside from the subjective benefits of having a book printed on paper which Lissa mentions, there are some very objective differences which lead me to believe that even when trees are exhausted as a source of paper we’ll be making synthetic paper.

First (and some of these were mentioned by DesertDog), it would have to be cheap. I’m not willing to toss around something more than 20 dollars and risk losing it or breaking it.

Second, it would have to be just as easy on my eyes as reading off of paper is. I cannot read for extended periods of time from a monitor.

Third, once the book has been printed, it’s fool-proof. No OSs crashing, and no recharging. Having the final product be technology-independant is good and useful. The book can’t ‘break’ or get glitchy.

I can see benefits to doing research and scholarly work with electronic documents, but if we’re talking about pleasure reading, I don’t see what the benefits are to the reader by migrating to a digital format.

hopefully never, if people who have read Ray Bradbury’s Farhenheit 451 take it to heart…
so keep an eye peeled for those fundamentalist church groups with Harry Potter bonfires in their front lawn…Save Harry!!

hmm…i should make a tshirt…

I prefer the “old book smell.” something from some dusty corner of the local used-book store… THAT’S intoxicating…


also - books are mobile. i mean, sure…laptops…but not everyone has [access to] a laptop…everyone has books and, thanks to libraries, theyre easily-accessible, open to everyone…

I don’t see books disappearing at all. Typography and printing will improve to the point where photographs on a coffee table book will be indistinguishable from the actual photograph. Wood pulp paper may give way to a plastic polymer. That will be both a blessing and a curse; books will last for thousands of years, but it may make recycling much more difficult. No more cheap science fiction hardcovers with pages that don’t line up and can;t be turned easily.

I’d also expect to see a rise in independent publishers and do-it-yourself publishers, as the tools to mass produe books drop in price.

I don’t think e-books will ever replace the printed word.

The readers are expensive, and you’d hate to take them to the beach or anyplace else where it’s likely to be ruined. Reading from a screen is harder on the eyes than reading from a page. Paper is just more convenient, and unless something happens to cause a massive paper shortage, I think people are going to keep using it like they have for the last few thousand years.

Besides, a reader just doesn’t feel as good in your hand as a nice, thick book.

When you can read an ebook whilst taking a bath or riding in a car or lazing about a pool, then they will replace paper.

But not before I die.

Sure you can get ebooks, but you need the manual on how to read them & that’s gonna have to be on paper…

Computers need instructions books written on paper.