Books are on their way out. Yes, that's what many "experts" are saying as the nation's economic bellyflop and technology threaten to turn our treasured books into the latest version of the 8-track tape.
Progress grinds on whether we like it or not, and for the most part we're better off with those gadgets that have changed our lives, if not made them better. It's inconceivable to think about living without computers, cellphones, and the host of devices that we take for granted these days.
But books going the way of the rotary dial telephone? It's possible. Look at the music industry and you can see an eerie similarity in what might happen to the publishing industry. Those big, expensive stereo systems have given way to iPod speakers, and CD sales are in the toilet since the digital download came along.
Many people are predicting the same downward trajectory for books. One literary agent at last November's Florida Writers Association conference boldly predicted that 90% of all books sold ten years from now would be eBooks.
That may seem a bit over the top, but major publishers were already feeling the pinch of an unwieldy and inefficient system before the current recession led to layoffs, budget freezes and cutbacks.
Today, Amazon.com unveiled the Kindle2, the next generation in the e-revolution. The device is slimmer, will hold 1,500 books
(do you think that's enough?) and will even read to you if you want to rest your eyes. All for only $359. But you can bet the prices will drop as more and more companies roll out their own versions of the eBook reader.
Those of us who cherish the printed word and are never far from an actual book with real pages, can only hope that there will always be libraries and book stores to serve our interests. After all, my 8-track still serves me well.