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John Hoover

Charlemagne

There were only a few thousand books in all of Europe in the 14th century.

Then it should be reminded that Baghdad, Abbasid capital of the Islamic Empire was hosting thousands of book s as one city.

The historical relation between Charlemagne and Harun al-Rashid, whom history remembers as the caliph who opened Islam's Golden Age.

So it was that in 798 Charlemagne dispatched an embassy to Baghdad with orders to seek an alliance with Harun al-Rashid. And so it was that Harun al-Rashid, who was also interested in negotiation, decided to send Charlemagne a very special gift—a gift, he said in his note to the Imperial Council, that few in Europe had seen since Hannibal and his Carthaginians marched across the Alps. The gift, said the Caliph, would be an elephant.

There were also two very tall and intricately worked brass candlesticks and a complicated water clock which caught the fancy of the historians of the day; it had 12 brass balls that struck the hour by falling on a cymbal and 12 carved horsemen which came out of little windows to parade as well.

the great water-clock going for them and they heard the twelve midday strokes, as twelve brass bells fell tinkling into a metallic basin, and twelve warriors on horseback issued forth from as many doors. Of course they understood nothing of it at all, but they shouted with enthusiasm, and celebrated in the best of faith the pomp and glory of Harun al-Rashid, the great Miramolin.

http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/197702/an.elephant.for.charlemagne.htm

Geoman

Amazon is also offering print-on-demand (POD). Likely to get a lot more traction, given their weight in the industry. I have a friend who recently printed his book with Amazon - he gets 50% of the profits instead of 10 to 15% he would normally get. So he can sell 1/5 the number of books and make the same money.

Technically there is no reason that any book (or edition of any book) ever printed should be unavailable. It should be available either electronically of by POD.

Next will be music, movies, and TV - why shouldn't every episode of every TV show be available all the time for a small fee? Every movie? Every album, no matter how obscure? With terabytes costing a hundred bucks at Best Buy, quick recording and printing software, what's the excuse not to do it? Why can't I go to Best Buy and have them manufacture any CD or DVD for me on the spot? Or order it from Amazon or Itunes? There is no technical barrier for this to happen.

In the future brick and mortar stores will not have any cd or DVDs in bins, collecting dust. You'll look at a screen for what you want, press a button, and it is made for you. Assuming you want to even go to the store, or even want a physical copy of something.

Next will be clothing. Why send new fashions to stores when you can just send designs, and have machines make what you need on demand?

It is going to be the start of the MOD world.

GK

Geoman,

True. Another side effect to look forward to is a free-up of retail real-estate. If even just 10% of brick and mortar retail outlets shut down, given the huge amount of land they occupy (including the large parking lots), think of all the suburban land that frees up for better uses.

This is already happening in electronics retail. Circuit City shut down, but Best Buy did not expand by a comparable number of storefronts as the sales volume moved online. The total storefronts across the industry simply shrank, and many old Circuit City stores are still quite visibly vacant.

The hikes in sales taxes in CA and other states does not help brick and mortar retailers either.

I would hate to own commercial retail property at this time.

Countries like India and China are lucky that they never did a major commercial retail buildout, only to see the overcapacity be unused, as is about to happen in the US.

Geoman

Dead malls litter any recession, but I wonder how many will ever come back. I like to think that real estate will be taken up by something better. Food? Art? Something not immediately accessible to MOD. It will become more about the experience.

What if cloths become susceptible to MOD? Retail as we know it will be dead. Even a small switch there could be devastating. Check out any store (Wal mart) and guess how much space is cloths, how much music and software, and how much is everything else. Worse still, most of the markup in retail is clothing - other goods have much lower mark ups.

I've been waiting awhile for car makers to wake up to MOD. Why stack up iron at car lots? Just have some models for test drives, some paint chips and interior features, then have the customer place the order. Your car will be ready in X weeks for pick up. Think of the billions that could be saved using that system.

In 2006 GM had in excess of one million unsold vehicles at the end of the year. At a retail price, that is a minimum of $25 billion wasted. Now that is not all lost, since the wholesale cost is lower, and the cars can go on to a life as used cars, but still, there are billions and billions to be had in cost savings. A car dealership then becomes a store front. Pass some of the savings on to the consumer, and drop your prices by 20 to 30% over anyone else. Every other car company will have to switch to the same system or go broke. And it gives domestic automakers a huge advantage over foreign car manufacturers - they can deliver their MOD cars faster to the customer.

Heck, start the process in Detroit. You could order you car on Monday and have it delivered to your house on Friday.

GK

like to think that real estate will be taken up by something better. Food? Art? Something not immediately accessible to MOD. It will become more about the experience.

I predict that outskirt shopping centers that lose half of their tenants, will cause the other half to see less patronage, and thus leave and move closer to (the better areas of) city centers, to fill vacancies there. So suburban sprawl will reverse, and shopping centers on the outskirts will be totally empty.

Hikes in sales taxes will accelerate this.

Homes built on the periphery of metro areas will drop in value as this land is freed up for virtually anything else (and be a great bargain for new buyers but doom for existing owners). 3000 sq. feet on 1 acre of land will be available for just $60,000, just 30 miles from the downtowns of Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, etc. This isn't a bad thing : a lot of Mexicans will be able to migrate into a 'middle class' existence through this.

So in general, a 10% consolidation in retail storefronts will cause migration of stores towards metro centers.

Cars : Yes, that should happen by now. Why should we pay 10% of the cost to the dealer, if we know exactly which new car we want? Dealers should subsist mostly on used cars.

Groceries : I am surprised that major grocery food chains don't offer the option of selecting all your items online from the website, getting a ticket number, and just driving up to a drive-through at the back of the store on your way home from work, where the stockboy places your bags in your trunk (the stockboy can gather all the items 10X faster than the shopper who doesn't know exactly which aisle which item is in). Much like calling in for take-out. This would be perfect for Costco.

The only reason to still go into the store would be to select fruits and vegetables, or meats (where visual verification is necessary before purchase).

Groceries could squeeze far more profits out of this model, and customers will finish their grocery shopping on the way home, without ever parking their car. They could restrict this option to $100 minimum orders at first, to run a trial on the process and logistics.

These ideas were tried in 1999-2000, but now it may actually work.

Thucydides

> Groceries

GK, you may or may not have heard of Grocery Gateway (http://www.grocerygateway.com/ ), a company which does delivery of groceries from web orders in the Toronto Area. Granted, it's not a large company (and it was later bought by a mid-size retailer), but it's survived a recession where presumably people would have cut back on frivolous things.

Geoman

The next level of MOD for groceries - grow the food on-site hydroponically, and harvest each day what you think you can sell. It sounds crazy, but there is this: http://nymag.com/news/features/30020/

Black&German


Anyway, back to the original post (which is much more interesting).

We've been debating this at our house all week. We're considering getting an e-reader, especially when they come out with the 3rd generation. It'd be great to view not only books and magazines, but also PDFs, and long blog articles, which are annoying to read on a laptop.

As for MOD, that's definitely where things are going. Where my parents live, grocery stores already deliver to your home. But I don't think it will kill retail, just change it. Retail stores will become storefronts, where people go to view purchases before buying them online. Sort of like the Bose and Apple stores now. I use Home Depot and Sears that way now, I narrow my selection online, go to the store to check out the appliance or product, and then order it online at home.

POD is interesting, because a lot of homeschoolers use it to get copies of old books. But e-readers are changing that. Now they just download the file from the Gutenberg Project, or Google Books, or their library.

Ajay

You miss the real disruption that will happen, probably because you don't understand the important role of micropayments. The only reason books are still printed is because they have an existing payment mechanism in place. Once you can pay with micropayments, books will all but disappear as it's an outmoded form that was constrained by printing technology, just as newspapers are disappearing today. Many books are padded all to hell just to justify printing out more pages so you can call it a "book." Online, you'll simply write a series of blog posts, as you're doing here, and readers will choose and pay only for the posts that interest them. The book form will die off as nobody will be reading them, neither on paper nor on e-readers. Also, you'll see much more innovation in the format of blog posts, in-place commenting and the like, because the electronic medium is inherently plastic and there's no end to the ways it can be improved.

GK

Ajay,

So when is this micropayment revolution supposed to happen? You have talked about it for a long time.

I don't think people are interested in tallying up a large number of tiny payments to keep track of their 'microexpenses'.

Ajay

You think I've been talking about micropayments for a long time? Jakob Nielsen and Robert Metcalfe were talking about them in the 90s. Ted Nelson, one of the main forebears of hypertext, was talking about them back in the 60s. Admittedly micropayments have probably been technically feasible for a decade or so now, but it's the rule for important technology to take off long after it's technically feasible. As for tallying numbers up, do you manually tally up all the charges on your credit/debit cards? What makes you think you'd have to do so for micropayments? It'll all be done automatically for you, all you'll have to do is verify the few potentially bogus charges that the micropayment system will flag for you. Most people will never even look at the billing cuz the payments are so small.

jeffolie

Amazon Christmas day e-book sales beat print sales

WASHINGTON (AFP) – On Christmas Day customers bought more electronic books than hard-copy books on Internet retail giant Amazon.com, the company said in a statement Saturday.

Amazon also said that its e-book reader, the Kindle, "has become the most gifted item in Amazon's history." .

"On Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books," Amazon said.

Amazon e-books can also be read on Apple iPhone or iPod Touch devices. The Kindle online store boasts a library of 390,000 digitized books for sale.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20091226/bs_afp/usitcompanyinternetbooksamazon_20091226235642

jeffolie

Kindle the most gifted item ever in our history

Amazon.com on Saturday released its annual post-Christmas statement on holiday sales and made one thing clear: the Kindle was king, perhaps fueled by continued shifts in plans for shipments of Barnes & Noble's competing Nook e-reader.

"We are grateful to our customers for making Kindle the most gifted item ever in our history," said Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.


http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10422032-1.html

Mirco Romanato

I was writing about your post in my blog, in italian, and a idea hit me:
When you write about the possibility to choose a voice for the eReader, did you think about the possibility to have the file to select a specific voice for any character in a novel? And for the narrator.
This would let the writer (or editor) to choose voices like he choose fonts.
Obviously, with a good enough SW and HW, the number of voices available would be near endless. This would be like a radio drama without real actors to read the text. And people would not note the difference.
Another disruption, another difference from the past and the present.

Black&German

People would notice the difference, at least for the first 50 years. The readers add much inflection and pace that adds to the enjoyment of the story. It'd take quite a while for a computer to be able to successfully mimic that.

About books disappearing... that's probably true. Books are like records. My own blog (and this one) are actually like books with each post being a chapter or topic. Once I post enough on one subject, I'll probably combine them into an e-book format and post it for free downloading onto an E-reader.

Brutus

I suppose I'll be the lone Luddite. Although I've never used an e-reader, I want the book or magazine in my hand whenever possible. From a media ecology POV, new media introduce subtle yet insidious changes to content and experience. Whereas uncritical consumers are eager to chase the latest innovation (e.g., standing for hours outside the Apple Store on the eve of each update of the iPhone), none of those innovations come without trade-offs, which are poorly understood and under-appreciated. For instance, the push toward digital everything is destroying the business models that provide incentives for content creators. I can't argue with the allure of everything every created in the realm of information and entertainment being permanently available in some downloadable, POD, or MOD version, but sifting that mountain of choice for the valuable veins will be a full-time endeavor. Probably won't matter, as most consumers have a tin ear when it comes to quality anyway.

GK

Brutus,

I used to think content creators would lose incentives, but I no longer think that is the case. They are after fame more than money anyway.

Musicians will depend on concerts, authors and bloggers on lecture fees, etc. The winners and losers will be different than before, of course. But the net pie only grows bigger.

Psychology Bachelor

this item is another creative idea by amazon, and finally published in this year.I have had this idea before, but never make it out.

Reader

Hey, I asked you over at Obs' blogs who you think the other 9 top predictors are but did not get an answer? So I am asking here!

GK

The Top 10 :

Ray Kurzweil
Michio Kaku
John Smart
J. Storrs Hall
Vernor Vinge
Paul Saffo
Eliezer Yudkowsky
Tyler Emerson
Brian Wang (nextbigfuture.com)
me (singularity2050.com)

So those are the Top 10. No particular order.

Reader

Ok, I will check them out soon. What do you think of the book by Steve Moxon?

Reader

Hey man, you are not emailing me. Something to think about for you. This is a contest from my university:

"You have now less than one week to get your entries in! It is only 800 words so there is still time to write it. The questions you can answer are:

++ "How will genetic advances change medicine and society by 2020?" (Mark Henderson - Science Editor of The Times)
++ "The Climate Change Act 2008 commits the UK to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050- can technology alone deliver road transports' share of this reduction?" (Andrew Harrison - Fuels Innovation Manager for Shell)
++ "Can renewable energy sources solve the UK's energy problems?" (Athene Donald, FRS, UNESCO 2009 Woman scientist of the year)
++ "What are the prospects for finding life on other planets?" (Sir Keith O'Nions, Acting Rector of Imperial College)"

Reader

Is that what you have in mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpHdRkA-_ew?

Erica Orange

Interesting read. I think there is still a market out there for books, magazines, newspapers, etc. because of the sensory appeal of them - touch, smell, vibrant colors, etc. Just like the introduction of any new distribution channel, it doesn't eliminate what came before it. What we see isn't subtraction of that distribution channel, but rather multiplication.

I would also check out the way in which William McDonough (the architect, designer,and author known for his work in sustainability) published his book Cradle to Cradle using recycled materials.

RoloScooppy

Do you care if I reference thing about this on my site if I post a link back to this website?

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