Will fewer books be sold this Christmas than last? I doubt it. Whatever inroads are made by electronic publishing, the book as gift will surely always survive ('I've downloaded the new Jamie into your Kindle' doesn't have quite the festive ring, does it?). More broadly, the book as desirable object will also surely survive. In fact I have high hopes that the ebook revolution - which at present has the big publishers circling the wagons and merging into ever larger conglomerates - could be good news for those of us who love actual books, those board-and-paper objects of desire. There is already some evidence that book design and production standards are improving - books are looking more attractive than they did a decade or two ago, and they're better made. Of course this isn't necessarily so at the mass-appeal blockbuster (or, increasingly, bonkbuster) end of the market - but that is precisely the area of the trade that best lends itself to electronic publishing. Why heft that 500-page airport doorstop around with you, when you could have it and any number of others all stored in one palm-sized gizmo? The ebook could take care of the book trade's heavy lifting - not just the blockbusters and bonkbusters but also all those pumped-up, over-length 'literary' or 'serious' novels - leaving the publishers of paper-and-board books to concentrate on more elegant productions.
I hope that all this upheaval might even result in a revival of the small book in all its forms - the novella, the little collection of short stories, the slim volume of verse, the long essay. The logic of the time is surely with small books. Just as the mighty Victorian three-decker was the perfect book form for an age of leisurely reading with few distractions, so the short book would surely suit our busy, media-saturated times better than the now standard 300-400 page novel (at least a third of which is likely to be padding anyway). If we must have big long books, let them migrate to their natural home on the ereader, and let those of us who love actual books have them better made, better designed - and smaller.