If you watch this video from the BBC, you will probably agree that books will never be replaced by electronic readers because:
- you can rinse a book after accidentally dropping it in the tub
- book pages do not reflect light like e-readers do when reading at night in your bed
- you do not get mugged for a book, but you could for an e-reader
- books smell good
Well, I think books will be replaced by electronic devices pretty soon, sooner than most people think. The point is that it is very hard to imagine a world without books, but it will happen, although the replacement will not be in the form of the current crop of e-readers which have been designed to mimic the book itself. The real replacement will be more like a PC, in a form similar to the current tablet PC running a browser.
Browsers have been around for a little more than 10 years and they have revolutionized how we communicate, adding hyper links and merging text with audio and video. The browser has already replaced newspapers and encyclopedias, it has helped create forums, blogs and social networks.
What we have not figured out yet is how to evolve the book into something that can be read in a browser. The main reason is not technological, although laptops are still expensive, heavy and with short battery life, but it's clear that overtime these problems will be solved. The main reason is the format: we have not yet created a format that renders the book obsolete enhancing it using hyper links, audio and video.
Basically the comparison between supports, paper vs e-reader, is a wrong one. The real comparison should be done between formats; books are essentially static, written a few years before printing them, and with a very short shelf life. The new format will be something not static at all, maybe a collaborative effort, completely integrated with the NET through links, and it will use audios and videos and who knows what else.
The new format will be very hard to be printed on paper, and that's what will make the book, as we know it today, truly obsolete.