Ebook readers are still in their infancy but are spreading fast. Lightweight and durable, they are capable of storing thousands of books for instant access.
The market leader is the Kindle, Amazon’s slender, hardback-sized reader. But several other devices could challenge the Kindle as the ebook market exands. In the US, Barnes & Noble, the book retailer, sells a reader called the Nook, while Google, the search engine, and Verizon, the telecommunications group, have teamed up to develop their own ebook reader for release this year.
The Kindle’s real competition, however, comes from Apple’s iPad. Dispensing with a keyboard entirely, the iPad is a halfway point between a smartphone and a laptop computer. With book downloads available via its iBook application, and a wider range of possible uses, the iPad is likely to make the cheaper Kindle – which costs just more than £200 ($295), compared to the iPad’s £400-plus – look short on features.
But while ebook readers are convenient and compact, can they ever compete with the emotional attachment people have for paper books? You would not, after all, line a room with shelves full of Kindles to impress visitors with your cultural breadth. You could not use an iPad to prop up a rickety table, or throw a Nook at the television. The idea of their demise seems unlikely – but then the future is something we are all bad at predicting.
For what it's worth I don't see paper books ever vanishing, least not until we chop down the very last tree, but I do see eBooks as the saviour of what we used to call mid range fiction - those cheap and cheerful paperbacks that used to sell by the ton. With eBooks these out of print backlist titles could be made available again at very little cost to the publishers. A case in point - for years there has been fan activity to persuade the publishers to bring John Gardner's James Bond novels back into print, but all to no avail. However recent news is that the entire Gardner/Bond series is soon to be available on eBook. The same could be done for other favourite series - George Gilman's Edge books would be very popular in the eFormat. Anything ever published could be brought back in electronic form - now that would be cool.