Ok, so I admit, the e-book may not be dead after all. In fact, and I hesitate to say this, but I wonder whether we have just seen the iPod moment for books: or at least what it might look like.
I am thinking of the XO-2, developed by the One Laptop Per Child project, and projected to cost just $75. Ok, so it's left-field, and it is probably something that most of us are unfamiliar with but the latest vision for a cheap e-reading device aimed at children in poorer countries just looks right.
And I am not the only one saying this. Read some of the comments on the LapTopMag blog (which had the scoop on the new device): "This is an image of the future. I want one, book reader would be great like this." "Book and graphic novel industry = Bye-Bye!" "Cool, I like the model so much . gonna be the future of e - books."
OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte sees it as an e-book, perhaps not rather but as well as a laptop: "Over the last couple of years we've learned the book experience is key," he said. Initially it will be promoted as an e-book reader with the capacity to store more than 500 e-books.
James Long over at the Digitalist blog was similarly taken: "The XO2 is immediately appealing, and has a bit of the iPhone wow factor, I think, presenting itself more as a book than a laptop. Being electronic, that makes it more like an eBook reader than a laptop."
I emailed James and Macmillan's head of digital publishing Sara Lloyd to see if my enthusiasm was misplaced.
Sara responded: "I agree entirely. A (cheap) laptop which allows for a book-like reading experience as well as all the other features you can expect from a laptop is surely the way to slot digital reading in to people's already digital lifestyle so much more seamlessly."
While James wrote back: "I agree that the XO2 is what an ebook *should* look like . . ."
Apparently, there are a bunch of technological and infrastructure problems to get around: while Jon White from Macmillan Education (who has some experience of the first device) was noticeably cool, putting his money on more commercially minded competitors, such as Intel.
He may be right: what good can come out of a not-for-profit collaborative initiative set up by someone who appears to inspire mixed feelings?
There is also the detail that it has not yet been built: it is scheduled to be released in 2010.
But I also got in touch with David Rothman, who is one of the main contributors to the knowledgeable and e-book enthusiastic TeleRead blog, and he says that he does not believe it is vaporware: "This time around I hope OLPC woos ordinary buyers to enjoy greater economies of scale. And if along the way, it inspires similar products from other companies, then great."
On his blog he suggests one possible outcome, involving Microsoft, which has made Windows available on the device: "As long as Microsoft is now tied in with One Laptop Per Child . . . is it possible the company could build a killer e-book reader app with ePub capabilities?"
Negroponte ended his speech by announcing that the Give 1, Get 1 program, which allows consumers to give one laptop to a child in the developing world and get a low-cost laptop for themselves, will start up again in August or September 2008.
So a good-looking reading device that has the buzz of being a good thing: I don't know, but could it be the one?