According to the Department of Education, between 1992 and 2003 the average adult's skill in reading prose slipped one point on a 500-point scale, and the proportion who were proficient -- capable of such tasks as "comparing viewpoints in two editorials" -- declined from 15% to 13."
Okay, first of all, I'm not going to lose any sleep over a 1 point decline on a 500-point scale in an 11 year period. Second, if the proficiency rate of readers comparing 2 paragraphs is only 15%, you know where the real work of your teachers needs to be concentrated. A loss of 2% isn't nearly as significant as the fact that the rate is so frickin' low to begin with!
Next: Elgan, like Jobs, conveniently forgets that this country does
read, voraciously... they have simply switched their reading to newspapers and magazines. Magazines are in every bookstore, in every grocery and drug store, in airports, in shopping malls, in convenience stores, and in gas stations. Newspapers are also in all of these places, and in kiosks all over town. If Americans weren't reading, you wouldn't see all of those mags everywhere, plain and simple.
I'm not against e-books for cellphones. But Elgan points out that the people reading these are stuck on long, cramped public trains every day, with no room to hold open a book. I hate to say it, but you won't find a significant portion of America's commuters in that situation... most of them are driving their cars. So, until global warming finally drives Americans into the arms of public transportation, I wouldn't depend on it to create a demand for your product.
That said, I've maintained that an attractive-enough device can bring more people into reading e-books, quite likely as an after-market to follow e-magazines and e-newspapers. If a cellphone proves to be that popular for reading content on the go (the iPhone or iPod touch, for instance), great. I'd guess at a larger device, at least the size of Sony's reader. But the important part is the features people want, combined with the content they want.