Ikea’s bookless shelf. What does it mean?

An IKEA Billy bookshelf, 80x106 cm, finished i...

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I saw an interesting article yesterday. It appears that Ikea is predicting the demise of printed books altogether by redesigning its book shelves to be bookless. The bookshelves of the future, according to the Swedish furniture king, will have just about everything else besides books. Books are dying. One of the top book vendors in the country Borders, announced that it is shutting down last July. Book sales are sharply down and the bottom isn’t in sight. Newspapers are also hurting. Newspaper publisher Rupert Murdoch recently closed one of the world’s oldest newspapers.

So what does this mean to the man on the street? What does it mean to the translation industry? Here are some of my own thoughts on this:

  • Shush! Libraries will become obsolete too. How can you have libraries without books?
  • Demand for translation services is going to continue to increase. People will read less but will be spending much more time reading online. The demand for related software products and online content will increase and all of that will need to be localized into multiple languages.
  • Printed manuals like the ones provided with cars and electronics devices will become obsolete in the next few years. All support information will be provided online. This prediction was made by SDL CEO Mark Lancaster at the AMTA conference in Denver last year.
  • The demand for DTP software and services will drop as more and more content will be published using markup languages like XML.
  • Demand for machine translation will increase. So will the quality of MT systems. This will be driven by the explosion of online content that we are seeing in recent years.
  • More and more content will be generated by software, rather than by humans. Semantic web publishing will take off. The prose of this content and its controlled nature will lend itself to machine translation much better than the printed word of old. MT systems of the future will be capable of publishing content into multiple languages much faster than today.
  • Robots will be trained to write. OK, granted that this it very futuristic but is it so far fetched? Robots will write books, robots will read books. What will humans do? Get coffee for the robots I guess.
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