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Ben Bova Foresaw the Self-Pub Movement

I’m working on a review of the Jetbook Color at the moment, so of course I am reading on it. I happen to have the Laugh Lines collection open on it, and I just came cross this surprising bit of tea-leaf reading.

Ben Bova is an SF author that all should recognize. He’s had a career spanning decades, and in that time he’s made any number startling predictions, some of which have since come true. This prediction came from Cyberbooks, a novel that was originally published in 1989.

The book focused on the invention of the first ereader, the Cyberbook. It was more of a satirical take on the publishing industry than a prediction of the near future, but that just renders the accuracy all that much more amazing. Here’s the money quote:

"Cyberbooks will bring down the cost of publishing to the point where thousands of writers who can’t get their works published now will have a viable marketplace for their books".

Doesn’t that sound like the current state of self-publishing?

While it’s not clear that Mr. Bova predicted that so many would bypass the traditional gatekeepers, there is still a ring of truth to this. Would you believe it was just tossed off in a brief phone conversation near the end of the book? And there’s even more predictions in the book which have come true, including online sales and the amount of effort publishers put into resisting change.

Laugh Lines

Just to put this into perspective, Cyberbooks was published the year before the first Sony Data Discman hit the market.  That was the first device to even come close to the ereader described in the novel, but it still fell short.

If anything, Mr. Bova was probably inspired by the DynaBook, a theoretical tablet/ereader developed by Alan Kay in the late 1960s. The Dynabook, which bears  striking resemblance to the Kindle DX, was supposed to have very long battery life and was conceived as  way for children to gain access to digital media. (Of course, that last detail is amazing all on its own; digital media itself didn’t exist at the time.)

You can look at the Dynabook and see that it was the godfather of all ereaders, but the one device that comes closest to the original ideal would probably be the XO laptop from One Laptop per Child. It’s bigger and heavier than the concept, but it is does follow the spirit of the idea.


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Tyler February 6, 2012 um 6:52 pm

I read this book about two years ago. The interesting thing is that, in the book, the publishing industry squashed the attempts to make and develop the Cyberbook. So it was made into a children’s toy and then into an e reader.

karen wester newton February 6, 2012 um 8:40 pm

Predicting the path of technology isn’t easy but predicting the path of economics is even harder. It’s cool to see someone who can get both of them right.

Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity has eyes like limpid pools February 10, 2012 um 3:15 am

[…] Ben Bova predicted the ebook self-publishing movement in 1989. […]

B&N, Microsoft to Offer Free SF eBook Downloads – 12 Years Ago – The Digital Reader May 7, 2012 um 12:42 pm

[…] new to me; the only other SF book from that era which really discussed ebooks was Ben Bova’s Cyberbooks.The story also mentions one of the very first of the major publishers’ experiments in digital […]

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