The battle to persuade us all finally to abandon the familiar spine-creased paperback in favour of words on a flickering screen was ratcheted up several degrees yesterday with the launch by Amazon of its long-awaited - and undeniably natty - electronic book- reading device christened Kindle.
"Why are books the last bastion of analogue?" the Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos asked at an unveiling of the gadget in a New York hotel, referring to the recent revolution in digital entertainment that increasingly has us downloading the music we listen to and even the films and videos we watch.
It is Mr Bezos's dream that the 10oz (283g) Kindle, which has been under development at Seattle-based Amazon for the past three years, will change how we enjoy the written word just as quickly (and as profitably) as the iPod, the ground-breaking player from Apple, has done our music-listening habits.
Flicker, in fact, is one thing the Kindle screen does not do. It boasts electronic ink-screen technology so the words look like they are printed on paper. Better still, they can be made smaller or larger and are no harder to see when viewed outside in bright sunlight.
Aside from being light, it is about the size of a paperback and much thinner. Unlike rival electronic readers, it has built-in wireless capacity, using mobile phone technology, so that material can be downloaded without cables or other computers.
Because there are no extra costs associated with accessing the internet, Mr Bezos warned potential buyers to forget waiting for any reduction in its price of $399 (195) any time soon. The new Apple iPhone first went on sale in the US at $599; this Christmas the iPhone and the Kindle will be priced identically in America. The company offered no details on when the machine would become available in Britain.
The Kindle, with its almost unlimited inventory of titles for sale via the internet, threatens finally to up-end the economics of book publishing.
The assumption at Amazon, however, and at competitors such as Sony and Epson, is that it is the book itself that will become extinct. "The question is, can you improve upon something as highly evolved and well-suited to its task as the book? …