Amazon will need to start selling the Kindle through venues other than just the Amazon.com web site if it wants to maintain its lead in the U.S. e-reader market, according to a new study from Forrester Research. For while the vast majority of current e-reader owners are what the research firm calls “older male tech optimists who tend to buy books online,” future potential customers will consist of a dramatically different demographic.
The e-reader market remains nascent, but it’s growing at a rapid clip: As of the end of the second quarter, just 1.5 percent of U.S. online consumers owned an e-reader, but that figure had more than doubled from the second quarter of 2008. And at the same time, the percentage of people who said they planned to buy an e-reader over the next six months tripled, to 6 percent. Helping to drive that early adoption have been Amazon’s existing customers, according to Forrester. “[A]s frequent online book shoppers, [early adopters] have an existing relationship with Amazon — a perfect storm of demographics that has contributed to the Kindle’s early success.” And while the second wave is expected to look similar to the first — also largely male, but younger and even more likely to read books — the wave after it is expected to be dominated by less tech-savvy females who buy books from multiple source like local bookstores, supermarkets and big chains like Wal-Mart, places where, currently, the Kindle isn’t sold.
The firm believes the total number of e-readers sold will top 3 million by the end of this year, and 13 million by the end of 2013. This may seem like a lot, but as Forrester notes, five years after the iPod was released, more than 50 million MP3 players had been sold. Apple grabbed the lion’s share of that market — more than 70 percent in the U.S. currently — by rapidly expanding the locations where an iPod could be purchased. Now in addition to the Apple Store, consumers can buy an iPod from Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Radio Shack or Amazon.com. The Kindle can only be purchased from Amazon.com, and it’s difficult to see one before you buy it (though Amazon did roll out a program where you can “See A Kindle In Your City,” but that’s a far cry from playing with one in a store). If Amazon doesn’t expand its distribution, it will leave a huge gap into which other e-readers, like one from Plastic Logic that features Barnes & Noble’s e-bookstore, will jump.