Actually, Negroponte is a founder of a company that distributes low cost laptops to developing nations. He’s hardly an unbiased source – if his organization achieves its goal (which is a noble one), everyone will have a laptop.
The publishing industry can’t handle sending 500,000 books to Africa? The same industry that distributed millions of copies of The Da Vinci Code and billions of Bibles and Korans over the years? I think they’re up to the task. I’m not losing sleep over their ability to keep up with demand.
If everyone in a village of 50 wants to read 50 particular books, it’s not as if you need to distrubuted 2500 books (50 X 50). A handful of each title will likely be sufficient (the library model).