"Until six months ago I was clinging to the idea that printed books would likely last for ever. Since the arrival of the iPad I am now wholly convinced otherwise." So says Simon Winchester, author of The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary in an article in the London Daily Telegraph. "The printed book," he maintains, "is about to vanish at extraordinary speed."
Reference books, such as the OED, are among the greatest casualties because it is now so much easier to get information from the internet than it is to flick through, say, a weighty dictionary. Oxford University Press, publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary, now say that it is likely that the third edition of the massive work – which is currently only 28 percent revised – will probably never be printed. The second edition, published in 1989, runs to a massive 20 volumes. This edition has existed online for more than a decade and it gets two million hits a month from subscribers who pay an annual fee of £240.
Simon Winchester believes that books are about to vanish but that reading as a pastime is about to expand. These, he says, are "inescapable realities".
Whatever we think of the iPad, it is now clear that it has caused a fundamental shift in perception of the future for electronic books. Not only has it brought e-reading to the masses, it has forced a price war among the manufacturers of e-ink book readers which were, before the iPad, a very niche market. Now the $100 e-reader is a reality and even mighty Amazon is selling the wifi Kindle at $130.
I agree with Simon Winchester's view that the printed book is on the way out. At the same time, I believe the market for books is set to expand dramatically. If iPads and e-readers encourage more people to read, this has to be a good thing. The book is dead, long live the book.