Is It The End For E-Readers?

It would be easy to think that e-readers are about to become extinct. Almost every technology blog that you visit these days is forecasting doom, gloom and the untimely demise of specialized e-readers.

After a period of very rapid growth, between 2009 and 2012, there are signs that e-reader sales may be slowing. The appearance of smaller, more affordable, tablet computers is generally cited as the reason for the predicted extinction of the e-reader.

E-readers have been around since 1999, but it wasn't until Amazon launched the original Kindle, in November of 2007, that they really grabbed the public's attention and were seen as a viable way to read books. Even then, it was a bit of a slow burn to begin with.

original kindle readerCredit:

The original Kindle was, let's be frank, a bit of an ugly duckling. It was full of weird angles and had a rather odd QWERTY keyboard. It was interesting, but mainly to the traditional "early adopters".

It wasn't until the Kindle 2.0 was released in February of 2009 that the Kindle, and e-readers in general, really caught fire. E-readers were, all of a sudden, the hot gadget of the day and everyone was trying to get in on the act.

For a while, every new reader that was released - and there were plenty of new releases - was hailed as the "Kinlde killer". Then Apple released the iPad, which was also widely predicted to signal the demise of the Kindle.

That never really happened of course, partly because the price difference between e-readers and tablets was just too great and partly because e-readers offer some definite advantages over tablets - if all you want to do is read e-books.

Apple iPad Mini

Apple iPad Mini MD528LL/A (16GB, Wi-Fi, Black & Slate)
Amazon Price: $329.00 $320.00 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 21, 2013)
Smaller, more affordable, tablets like the iPad mini are fueling a huge growth in tablet sales.

E-Reader vs. Tablet Computer Ownership

ereader vs tablet salesCredit:

After a period of very rapid growth, e-reader sales peaked at 23.2 million units per annum in 2011. 2012 saw 14.9 million e-readers sold and predicted sales for 2013 are just under 11 million units.

The graph above shows one possible explanation for this. E-reader ownership is shown in dark blue, with ownership of tablet computers in light blue. It seems as if more and more people are buying tablet computers in preference to dedicated e-readers.

Of course, what passes for a tablet these days isn't the same as it was back in 2010. Smaller tablets, like the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet, have reduced the price gap between e-readers and tablets. Many people will be happy to pay a little extra for the added versatility which a tablet can offer.

Kindle Fire HD 7"

Kindle Fire HD 7", Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 16 GB - Includes Special Offers
Amazon Price: $199.00 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 21, 2013)
Amazon's Kindle Fire HD offers a lot of tablet for the money.

So Is It The End For E-Readers?

In a word - no. Tablet computers are not going to kill of e-readers any more than e-readers and e-books will kill of printed books. The two devices are different and will co-exist - at least until there is some major change in display technology, at which point they may merge.

Dedicated e-readers offer several advantages over tablet computers, if you're mainly interested in reading e-books at least.

  1. E-ink technology displays are much better for reading on than back-lit LCD screens.
  2. E-reader battery life is measured in weeks - rather than the hours that you might be lucky to get from a tablet computer.
  3. Although the gap is closing, e-readers still cost quite a bit less than tablet computers.

For all of the above reasons, e-readers will continue to be popular with booklovers everywhere. They are, unsurprisingly perhaps, a much better device than tablets for reading on - and that will ensure their survival, in the short to medium term at least.

And if/when e-readers and tablets do merge, we will still be reading more e-books than ever before. At the end of the day, it's the move from printed text to digital medium that's important, not the hardware that's used to access it.

Kindle Paperwhite E-Reader

Kindle Paperwhite 3G, 6" High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Free 3G + Wi-Fi - Includes Special Offers
Amazon Price: $179.00 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 21, 2013)
Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite is the "world's most advanced e-reader" - according to Amazon. For the moment at least, they're right. The Paperwhite is great to read on, in all light conditions.