Reading the iPad
Apple's iPad is a device which many across the media industries seem to have invested with almost magical powers. Newspaper bosses are hailing it as a way of persuading readers to pay for digital content, with Rupert Murdoch - who, according to a biographer, has never been on the internet unsupervised - seen cradling one with apparent adoration.
Magazine editors are enthusing about the possibility of glossy interactive editions which will convince premium advertisers to keep spending. And then there are publishers and authors, who still aren't quite sure whether this is the gadget that will finally deliver them into a profitable digital future.
Apple's iBook store, now launching in the UK, is poised to take on Amazon as a major player in digital-book retailing. As I write, it's only stocked with free out-of-copyright books, but I'm expecting deals with major publishers to be unveiled imminently.
There has been a cautious welcome from the Publishers Association whose chief executive Simon Juden called the device "a welcome contribution as it offers a wider choice to consumers and provides further competition to what has been, until recently, a rather narrow market."
Figures released in April show how narrow. Sales of downloads of general books rather than academic titles netted just £2.1m last year, though that was a five-fold increase on the year before. Less than 1% of the market is made up of digital sales. So will the iPad bring lift-off? I've found one small publisher who has high hopes.
Neal Hoskins runs Winged Chariot, which makes beautifully illustrated picture books for small children. He has already launched several of them in iPhone editions - and is now producing iPad versions. "The iPad is huge for us," says Mr Hoskins, "it's made for picture books."
Having seen one of the books, Emma Loves Pink, I can see why this new platform could be attractive, both for publishers and the parents who buy books. The book gives a choice of languages, and the device can read it to your child as she flicks through each page.
Winged Chariot will be entering what could be a lucrative market - an interactive Alice in Wonderland iPad book has already proved a hit amongst US buyers.
Neal Hoskins thinks we are getting a glimpse of the future of digital reading:
"I would hope that the generation born in or around touch-screen devices would expect and enjoy extras to reading. It's only the beginning, really, and what we are thrilled about is where artists will go with this."
That's fine for children - but when it comes to adults, is the iPad really meant for books? I've been trying to read one on the device and I'm still torn about its attractions. It is great for reading in bed, especially if you want to turn off the light so as not to disturb your partner - but in bright sunshine, the reflective screen becomes almost unreadable.
And there is another great downside to books bought in Apple's iBook store. They are locked to the device, so you only own the book on the iPad and can't read it elsewhere. For me, and I expect plenty of others, passing books on to family and friends is part of the attraction.
Apple's new baby is a brilliant, if expensive, multimedia device, which may revolutionise the children's book market. But somehow I can't see it making the printed page redundant any time soon.
Update 0803: I've just noticed that the iBook store has now been stocked with a range of paid-for titles, so the deals with the publishers have obviously been done.
But at first glance, it looks as though publishers are demanding premium prices. The Big Short by Michael Lewis costs £15.99 on the iPad - I have just bought this excellent book about the few people who spotted the credit crunch coming from Amazon's Kindle store for $11.99.
And this morning, the Times has launched its iPad version, and again at a jaw-dropping price. You pay £9.99 for the app, but that just lasts 28 days - and you have to keep paying £9.99 each month thereafter.
Are these prices from purveyors of the written word going to win over iPad users? I'm sceptical.