I have a library card. With that card I can borrow books in the library that issued it. I show the card and get my books. After 4 weeks I have to bring it back to the library. If it's not back in time I must pay a small fine. If I damage it or lose it, I pay about $50.
I can also do the following: With my iPad I visit the library's web-site for e-books. I search for a book or select one from the top-50. I then enter the number of my library-card and press a download link and finish off by selecting to open the book in my iPad app called Bluefire. After 4 weeks I'm no longer able to read the book, but I can revisit the library site and re-borrow it. I don't have to worry about fines, because there's no requirement to return the e-book. I can't cause any damage to the book that will hurt the library and I won't lose their property. Isn't that fantastic? I think so. However there's more. Suppose a friend calls to tell me about a new book he's reading. While he's telling me about the book I can visit the library's e-book site and borrow it!
The downside is that the choice of e-books is much smaller than hardcopies, but most of the new best-selling books are available. For most people that's probably enough.
For me, the iPad wins!
What about buying books then? What about the reading UI? I'll treat that in another blog entry.