I read today about an author again accusing ereaders of being elitist (probably both the people reading and the device). I couldn't disagree more. There are a lot of things I like about ereaders, but one of things that excites me the most is their potential to get books into the hands of people who don't have access to them.
I've blogged before about how difficult it is to get books in Central Asia. There are libraries, but they aren't well-stocked and it's expensive to check books out from them. For example, in 2005 it cost 3 som to check a book out for one day. That was the same price as a bus ride. If I had to pay the equivalent of a bus ride in the US for each day I had a book checked out, it would make the library pretty much worthless to me, except to visit each afternoon to sit and read if I had time. Of course there are bookstores, but when most of your income is going toward food, books can't be a major priority, and again, the selection in every bookstore I saw was really limited.
I remember a well-off friend in Uzbekistan telling us that one of her friends got a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and the all took turns treading it. We always saw books into people's homes. Old books, yes, but I don't doubt that reading is important in Central Asia.
Cell phones would never have gotten as cheap as they have if people hadn't created a demand for them when they weren't so cheap. Now cell phones are common around the world. I don't think it's too much longer before basic ereaders start to get cheap enough that they are affordable to many people.
I'm looking forward to the day when people, even in less affluent countries, can stop in an internet cafe for a few minutes, download a few books, and read them on their ereader for less money than they could check those same books out of the library for a week. Even better, an NGO could set up kiosks where books could be transferred to ereaders, just like I can at my library.
So maybe ereaders aren't affordable right now to most people. But I think there is great potential for ereaders to change reading around the world just like cell phones can changed communication in every corner of the world.