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We've always had a love affair with the printed book. We write our names on the inside flaps, loan books to friends, and read bestsellers in the bathtub. We dog-ear the pages, underline our favorite passages, and stack paperbacks on our nightstands.

So what are book lovers to make of the electronic book? In this volatile time when the latest technology claims last a nanosecond, digital content providers promise us the moon. Electronic books, they assert, will cost readers less money, save publishers warehousing and overhead costs, and allow pastors and missionaries in Third World countries to access resources more quickly via the Internet. Authors will be able to self-publish their titles; bulky textbooks will be replaced by sleek laptops or handheld devices; and those quirky little tomes we love but that don't sell well will never go out of print.

Whether all of these things are true or just hype, one major appeal of the electronic book is its instant gratification for a fast-food generation. Digital books—via online bookstores such as Amazon.com or bn.com—are accessible 24/7. If you crave the latest bestseller at 2 a.m., you can download it to your PC in seconds. There's no shipping delay, and no out-of-stock apologies.

Business is betting on electronic books. According to research by Accenture, in just five years, 28 million of us will be adopting some sort of device to read our books electronically, whether through our PCs, a handheld reading device, or even a special mobile phone. Accenture also found that more than half of consumers, regardless of their age, want to use digital media—including audio, interactive television, and e-books. If these estimates hold true, Accenture predicts the market for digital books will ...

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In the Magazine

February 19, 2001

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