iPad: Who will be the winners and who the losers?

Apple's iPad has finally arrived. If you're book person – and not a techie – should you care?

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The answer is yes. And it doesn't matter if you plan to spend all eternity doing all your reading in an oak-paneled library lined with leather-bound manuscripts. If you care about reading, the arrival of the iPad matters to you.

It matters to you because it impacts the book world. Within that world, there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers. But sooner or later we'll all be involved.

For the moment, here's the immediate score:

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For book readers, a win. The iPad means more choice and that can only be good. For those who want it, the new device offers e-book readers a number of things that Amazon's Kindle, for instance, does not: a touch screen, a quicker page turn, a more appealing visual display, and a neat "shelving" system for displaying your books. It also, however, comes with a higher price tag, a back-lit screen (harder on the eyes), and a larger size (not larger than the Kindle DX, but larger than the earlier Kindles) which makes it less easily portable. Personally, I'm not trading in my perfectly train-and-subway-compatible Kindle – at least, not yet. But it does mean that, for the moment, readers of e-books have another good choice. And soon, competition will probably mean that all the best features of both will combine.

For book publishers, also a win. Apple is offering a different pricing system which will allow publishers more control. This is essential. E-books are clearly the wave of the future and publishers need to start finding a way to make the economics viable. Breaking Amazon's choke hold on the system should bring a wave of relief. There is still plenty of adjusting and rethinking to be done, but this seems to be a step in the right direction.

But for bookstores, a loss – potentially a huge one. If you are the kind of person who enjoys lying awake at night worrying about things, then quickly add bookstores to your list. Every step forward that e-readers take has to be a blow to bookstores. Whatever happens to the iPad, e-books still made a leap forward yesterday in terms of visibility, public interest and discussion, and coolness. How will your corner bookshop compete? I don't know. Things were already hard enough for them. And if you are someone who still enjoys regular, leisurely browses in bookstores – and don't feel that perusing books by tapping a touchscreen will ever be an adequate substitute for that experience – then you should be worried. Very worried.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe

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