Sunday, March 25, 2012

E-books Will Prevail


Why? Because of oil or, rather,
the lack of it.

“No way, man. They’ll take my printed books when they pry my cold, dead fingers off the spline.”

Well, it’s harder to find someone as rabid about their copy of Hunger Games as their Colt .45 Automatic, but I’ll bet there are a few. Will they be just as intense about their electronic version of the same book? Doubtful, but in just a few decades the electronic conveyance of information such as books, magazines, and newspapers to the masses won’t be a decision by the average consumer between paper and electronic versions based on preference. It will be a done deal dictated by rising energy costs. Only the upper class and the elite will be able to afford paper books.

“It can’t get that expensive!” you exclaim.

Let’s examine it closer. All the inks and dyes come from petroleum. The energy to harvest the fiber comes from petroleum. Transportation costs from the forest to the paper mill, paper mill to the publisher, publisher to the consumer; these all add up, and they are based on petroleum. Once bought, it requires a modicum of protection from the elements and storage space forever, or at least until you...don't care about it anymore. That also requires energy for air conditioning and heating.

“But why be such a pessimist about the rising cost of oil?”

I'm glad you asked. Despite assurances by the Saudis that they have 4 trillion barrels of oil, the latest studies on world oil reserves from Oxford University comes up with a more modest estimate of 900 billion barrels. Oil reserves 'exaggerated by one third'. Our current demand is 90 million barrels per day so, if you do the math, there’s only about 30 years of oil left. Thirty years is not a long time. Our recorded history is 400 times longer than that. You can pay off a house in less time than that. Fracking is not going to help that much. It's an expensive recovery of the last few barrels on land requiring many wells to recover what use to take one. Undiscovered reserves will mitigate this timeline but not by much. Those reserves are also expensive because they are miles below the bottom of the ocean deep.

It gets worse. Remember, I said the demand is 90 million bbl/day. We’re only producing 86. There is a constant backlog of demand putting pressure on the price of oil. This will accelerate the whole process as far as price goes but cut down on demand somewhat. As price goes way up, demand will go way down, stretching that thirty years out a couple more decades. Still, anything that can be produced and distributed using less energy will be. Paper books are certainly one of those things that can be done differently and more cheaply.

“So that means when I publish my books as e-books, I’m actually helping save the world.”

Yes, you are a hero. Unfortunately, you are only delaying the inevitable resource wars that will be fought over dwindling reserves, but you don’t have to include that information when telling the cute boy or girl next to you at the bar what you do; just the hero-author part.

1 comment:

  1. Another aspect of this is that the energy cost of running computers of the same processing power(including ebook readers) goes down about %50 every 18 months. At that rate it will not be too long before your reader will be powered by the heat of your hand, or the ambient light in the room. Of course this applies to the internet as a whole as well, so the cost of distribution of ebooks and other data is on a downward slope as well.