The ever interesting Nicholas Carr has a interesting series of posts on ebooks that are work a read. He points out the relatively stability of books, and the slowing of the growth of ebooks in asking the question Will Gutenberg Have the Last Laugh?
There is a very interesting back and forth between Nick and Clay Shirky here that follows up on that post. I won’t even begin to summarise. It’s worth reading in full.
In Textbook Determinism Carr raises some very importants question on the practical benefits of ebooks, and the move by some school districts to replace textbooks by ebooks (of various sorts). They’re pretty important questions
Now you might think that before launching such a fundamental and far-reaching project, which will require significant upfront investments even if it may eventually lead to lower annual textbook costs, the government would have lots of hard, compelling evidence of the pedagogical benefits of e-textbooks over paper ones. But you’d be wrong. The bureaucrats point to some broad studies of how “digital environments” improve some educational outcomes in some subjects, but they have not sponsored or cited, so far as I’ve been able to find, a single, rigorous textbook vs. e-textbook study to support the wholesale banishment of paper textbooks from schools. (If I’ve missed something, please let me know in the comments.) What’s particularly curious is the fact that, as Genachowski and many other “players in the digital learning ecosystem” admit, the ideal, multimedia, new-generation e-textbook that everyone’s talking about remains in its early formative stages. It’s more a concept than a product. We’re rushing, in other words, to replace the traditional textbook with something that doesn’t really exist yet.
He also notes that
The studies that indicate a student preference for print aren’t just reporting kneejerk reactions, either; students lay out practical reasons why a printed book is better than an electronic one for some common modes of research and study.
I don’t think that ebooks are going away ( Personally I have two Kindles and an iPad with Kindle software). I do think it’s worth considering what might be lost as we decommission a 500+ year old technology with some important affordances, and how we can avoid losing those affordances.