Leading article: After books

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Where lies the future of the book? Oxford University's venerable Bodleian Library knows that at least part of its future resides in a giant warehouse in Swindon, to which nearly 6 million volumes are to be consigned within 12 months. Quite simply, shelf space in Oxford has run out.

Could it be, though, that the Bodleian is a victim of historic mistiming? As we consider in our Essay today, the publishing industry is on the brink of a revolution, thanks to the soaring popularity of e-books. Of the three intermediaries that currently stand between author and reader – agent, publisher and retailer – at least two, it is speculated, will disappear. The book as we have known it, on paper, between covers, could follow.

An early investment in e-books might have saved the Bodleian the expense of a storage outpost, even if a cyber-Bodley might seem, to those of a donnish disposition, an oxymoron. But unless readers are to be swamped with words, someone somewhere will be needed to arbitrate, someone like a curator or editor. And if the worm moves into the book sector of cyberspace, as it surely will, readers may find themselves grateful for that warehouse in Swindon. The book is dead; long live the copyright library. Discuss.

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