Now, as my regular readers know, I'm not one of those elite literati who believe e-books will eventually destroy our love of books and bring about the complete ignorance of humankind. (After all, we're doing just fine developing complete ignorance without the e-book, thank you very much).
But I do believe e-books will transform our reading habits. I do believe they will transform book publishing in ways we can't yet predict. And let's face it. Once Apple gets in the e-book game (which I'm assuming/hoping will happen any day even though I have absolutely no reliable information on this whatsoever), all the rules will change. An Apple e-book (or . . . uh . . . i-book?) will likely do to the book industry what the i-pod did to the music industry.
Remember what happened? At first, when it became obvious they'd no longer be able to sell mountains of CDs, music industry executives griped and whined and used words like "extinction." Then, they calmed down, took a look at the world around them, realized people still wanted to listen to music, and adapted.
I think we'll see the same thing happen in book publishing in the coming years. Right now, we're hearing a lot of book publishers predicting doom (along with David Sedaris, half-jokingly on the back of a Kindle).
I believe, however, that the book publishing world will adapt. People love good stories, and book publishers will not serve themselves by hemming and hawing over the emergence of the e-book. Rather, they need to calm down, realize that people are excited about e-books because people love to read, and adapt.
The e-book is not the end of literacy. It could, if the book publishing industry makes the right choices in the coming years, be the next great step in advancing it.