Friday, January 4, 2013

E-Reader Sales Down, Signaling a Waning Revolution

I noted earlier how e-reading is growing.

But according to the Wall Street Journal, the e-reader itself is seeing declining sales as tablet devices become more popular. See, "The E-Reader Revolution: Over Just as It Has Begun?":
The e-reader era just arrived, but now it may be ending.

Dedicated devices for reading e-books have been a hot category for the past half-dozen years, but the shrinking sizes and falling prices of full-featured tablet computers are raising questions about the fate of reading-only gadgets like Inc.'s original Kindle and Barnes & Noble Inc.'s first Nooks.

Market-researcher IDC recently estimated 2012 global e-reader shipments at 19.9 million units, down 28% from 27.7 million units in 2011. By contrast, IDC's 2012 tablet forecast is 122.3 million units.

IHS iSuppli comes up with different totals, but it sees a similar trend. It estimates that shipments of dedicated e-readers peaked in 2011 and predicts that 2012 shipments slid to 14.9 million units, down 36% from a year earlier. By 2015, it expects unit sales of dedicated e-readers to be just 7.8 million.

One problem is that some users who bought e-readers see no particular urgency to buy another. Julie Curtis, a substance-abuse counselor in Stow, Ohio, says she is devoted to her two-year-old Kindle. "It works fine, I really have no reason to get a new one," she says. "If I did ever want to upgrade, it would probably be to a tablet, like the Kindle Fire," she adds.

E-readers seemed revolutionary when they came into vogue in 2007. They allowed users to store and read hundreds of books on a device that was lighter than many hardcovers and took up much less space. In addition, digital books cost less to buy.

In the intervening years, e-reader designs improved. The devices looked sleeker, they were easier to read, they weighed less, their pages turned faster, and they held more books. Wireless capability allowed users to download novels, magazines and newspapers wherever they were, whenever they wanted, and now the devices allow for reading in the dark.

"The real innovation in e-readers has been giving consumers a convenient way to buy books, wirelessly, without even having to use their computers," says Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester Research analyst. "Giving consumers a digital storefront right in their hands, that's what really made e-readers a phenomenon."

But tastes and technology have moved on. People haven't stopped reading. They are just increasingly likely to read e-books on tablets rather than e-readers, according to a recent Pew Research Center report. The polling firm found that 23% of Americans said they had read e-books in 2012, compared with 16% in 2011.