If the super bookstores Whitcoulls and Borders depart Queen St in the coming months, it will certainly be a blow to the city planners' dreams of reviving the street's old glory days as the golden shopping mile.

The big headquarters book shops do attract customers to town with a range of stock not found on the shelves of their suburban branches.

And for me at least, it will mean the loss of favourite places to loiter for a while, if only to fill in time before a show or an appointment.

Unfortunately for the book vendors, there seem to be too many people like myself, browsers rather than buyers. But as a reader, it's not going to be the end of the world for me. I've got an e-reader and I've happily moved on.

After more than 500 years, the printed book has had, as they say, a good innings. It's time for the delivery of the printed word to join the modern world. Some of my bookie friends are wailing and gnashing their teeth about Whitcoulls/Borders' troubles - while quietly ordering online from Amazon and elsewhere and pretending they're not part of the problem. To them I say, go electronic and feel good about all the trees that will be saved.

Booksellers have been pointing at overseas mail order houses like Amazon as if they're the villains, and there's no doubt they have helped to create the current crisis. But the campaign by Australian retailers that was briefly latched on to by their local counterparts last month, for an end to the GST exemption on mail order imports, totally misses the point. The reality is that the era of the printed book is finally coming to an end.

Even Whitcoulls and Borders acknowledge this with their belated promotion of electronic readers. Last week, through the Whitcoulls website bookshop, I bought for just $9.99 the e-reader edition of the New York Times WikiLeaks saga, Open Secrets. It's the 1567-page-long "definitive chronicle of the WikiLeaks documents' release and the controversy that ensued" taking the saga up to the end of January.

It took about five minutes to buy and download via my computer, then feed into my e-reader. There seems to be no printed version as yet. Not here, anyway. It took me back to the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the last great leakage of United States documents, late in the Vietnam War.

I forget how many months it took for that "instant" book to finally arrive on these shores, but I do recall having to place an order and wait and wait.

Eventually you took delivery of a thick paperback, badly bound, badly printed and almost impossible to hold open to read.

Now, thanks to the new technology, even in remote corners of the globe like Auckland, we are part of one instant market. Read a review of a book you fancy and there's a rapidly growing chance it'll be out in there in the ether, ready for instant download.

There's also lots to download for free - and legitimately so. I've been sitting in the bus of late reading the droll parliamentary sketches written by Robin Hyde, pioneer local novelist, that appeared in the Dominion in the second half of the 1920s. Nearly 100 years on, politicians haven't changed. It came courtesy of the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre: http://nzetc.blogspot.com/

For a change of mood, I can click across to the Early Diaries of Henry Williams, recording, from the missionary's viewpoint, the daily birth pangs of a nation between 1826 to 1840, in Coronation Street-like detail. I've just got to the drama of recently arrived British Resident James Busby getting peppered with gunshot in a nocturnal home invasion. Williams is playing detective, interviewing his various chiefly mates on likely culprits - while Busby is wailing in the background demanding the death penalty. Not that there's any court system or police to enforce this.

All of which is by way of saying that if the Queen St book emporiums do go the way of the old department stores, it will be a bit sad, particularly for those trying to bring shoppers back downtown. But I'm already over it. I have my e-reader.