E-readers: Sounding the death knell for printed books?

One of our nagging worries, as we steam ahead into the Internet age, is what’s going to happen to the humble book. Will the printed page finally give way to the flickering screen? Will authors even bother to get their work published, or will they just upload it for anyone to read?

It looked this question would be answered by websites like Project Gutenberg and scribd.com, which offer thousands of complete texts, at no cost to the reader, and pose a grave threat to publishers and booksellers alike. At first it seemed that the battle would be between the website and the paperback, but companies like Amazon have recently entered the field, with electronic reading devices that promise to do for literature what the iPod did for music.

Following the recent success of Amazon’s Kindle electronic reading device, introduced in 2007, Barnes & Noble has sought to carve out its own corner of the market, with an eBookstore offering electronic books for a variety of platforms, including Apple’s iPhone, the Blackberry Smartphone, and most Windows and Mac computers.

Barnes & Noble’s greatest coup, however, is that it is the exclusive provider of eBooks for Plastic Logic’s forthcoming (and much anticipated) E-reader device. The device, scheduled for general release in 2010, will take the battle to a whole new level. “We want to replace paper,” says Steven Glass, Plastic Logic’s head of user experience, and the impossibly sleek device, weighing in at a mere 13 ounces, and capable of storing thousands of documents for reading and annotating, seems a more-than-worthy successor.

And the electronic media is no longer sounding a death knell for traditional publishers. As the New York Times recently remarked, print and delivery can consume as much as 65% of a newspaper’s budget – so switching to electronic options is likely to give many publications a new lease of life. So it’s high time we stopped mourning the death of the book – and started to celebrate its reincarnation.