Forecasting the demise of the paper book is to some as straightforward as it was to those who forecasted the demise of the CD. Yet reality will be more complicated. While music publishers were slow to react and took more than their fair share of missteps, change and adapt they did and, as a result, they've begun to exert a little direct influence on a market that was in free fall. The physical CD isn't 'back', but the format may now be a managed item in a portfolio of options available for music purchasers. As a result, the CD may have a long life yet.
Many believe the physical book will disappear within in the next ten years yet the example of the music CD suggests the future of the book may be more nuanced. The availability of electronic versions of trade content will approach 100% in less than ten years: In my view, five years for all but the smallest publishers is more likely. Despite the availability however, electronic content is likely to represent only one of a number of ways consumers will engage with book content. Whether that percentage is 25% or 50% matters less than how publishers will manage the process. Book publishers can (and are) avoiding many of the mistakes that music publishers made when they were effectively out of control. Book publishers can 'skip ahead' to the point where they proactively manage the further development of print - as music publishers are now doing with the CD - and, in doing so, publishers will buy time as they adapt to the changes in their business brought about by the migration to electronic content. Rather than disappear, the lowly print book may retain a position of wide distribution (not universal) and become the focal point of a facilitated interaction with numerous content acquisition options for consumers. Maybe the book has stronger legs than suggested.