I had some other post in mind, but now I don't remember what it was, so I can at least write this one down :)
I think there are going to be the following use cases for e-readers:
- manuals and other tech books (like the ones which can be currently read online at http://safari.oreilly.com ) - these are the books which need to be updated ASAP in case of errata, benefit a lot from having full-text search and community feedback, and many of them aren't relevant after 5 years or so.
- Other thought regarding manuals - taking into account popular community projects like - I'll name two I had to look at recently - PHP manual or Programming Scala where community feedback essentially becomes part of the document itself - we can expect that the role of document author will be replaced by the role of project leader, who establishes the guidelines for the documentation and writes first draft, and then moderates the community feedback when necessary. It seems to be natural for a technical documentation to be that open-source.
- Now, what else can be great content for e-readers, apart from tech or other manuals? (Foreign language ones can be a good fit also, especially if e-reader also has audio capabilities). I would suggest magazines. Many of us have this situation, when we are subscribed to this and that, we are getting the glanced-paper exemplars bi-weekly or monthly, read them (or not) and discard them afterwards. Daily journals are falling under the same category.
- To the same category I'd also put so called "beach literature": the books which can be read only once, like some sort of canned conversation when you can't have one. It's a pity to spend expensive paper on those.
At the same time, I don't think that the paper books are going to die. After all, paper book has life span which is way longer than any e-reader, and it's a medium proven by millennia of human experience. But I do think that spreading of e-readers, along with internet, might significantly reduce the amount of printed information.
At the extreme end it might be even like that (and I would quite like it to be like that): everybody can access the whole body of human knowledge either absolutely free or for some fixed rate (may be a set of rates could be available for different sets of content), and everybody could order a certain book, magazine or journal to be printed out (which would cost extra) - in case he or she wants to have a hard copy. This could be the way to get the advantage of both worlds: not wasting paper on things which are expendable, but preserving information that feels like to be preserved.
Probably, under this model, the books which are ordered often, would still be printed en masse (thus being cheaper). The danger here is that some information might never be printed unless you happen to run across it and appreciate it, and we are losing the possibility to go to a bookshop and rumble through the books, discovering what we have never seen before. We might hope that some publishing houses will still be taking the risks of ordering hard copies of the literature works which they deem interesting. We also should hope that books, as such, will not become a luxury.
At least, I do. By the way, how many new books have you read the last month?.. ;)