Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has an epiphany about the possibility that paper books may be soon receding into oblivion.
I had the same epiphany a few months ago, after I saw video of the Plastic Logic ebook. A step-up in charm and usability from the Amazon Kindle, it might be just enough to trigger an avalanche.
A lot will depend on just how successful Plastic Logic -- or one of their rivals I don't know about -- are in producing the seductive charm of the iPhone. And, even more will depend on their success in organizing the world to support it. But, Amazon and Kindle are pioneering the path, and what a path!
It is a huge change, and, though its shape may still surprise, what may shock more than anything else, is just how rapidly it takes hold. The diffusion of ebooks will come with great suddenness, I think -- expanding from the niche penetration of a rare novelty to ubiquity in less time, even, than the cellphone.
In terms of finding a business model that will finance the development of a fantastic device, early adopters willing to pay a premium are the holy grail. College students are a ready market for even an expensive model, if any savings at all can be had in the cost of distributing books, and therefore the price of textbooks. Just the economy of not carrying a 30 lb. backpack is worth something! That's a huge, and price-tolerant early adopter market.
The other, potential obstacle would be the willingness or ability of publishers to make content available. But, mostly, that's taken care of. Every new book is published from electonic form and stored in electronic form. And, vast libraries of out-of-copyright and out-of-print books have already been scanned into electronic form. Thank you, pdf.
And, of course, the internet is already established as a distribution channel.
All the elements are in place for very rapid diffusion.