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Why e-Book Reader Sales Are Seen Heading South

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Is the window of opportunity for e-book readers with embedded broadband going to close not long after it just opened? That’s the forecast being made by UK research firm Informa Telecoms & Media — it believes device sales will peak in 2013 and then decline by 7 percent the following year because instead of purchasing dedicated e-book readers, consumers will shift towards other multifunction devices with mobile broadband, such as Apple’s iPad (s aapl) or an anticipated Android (s goog) tablet, to read e-book content.

Indeed, one of the key reasons for the recent success of readers like Amazon’s Kindle (s amzn) or the Barnes & Noble Nook (s bks) is also a limiting factor in terms of multipurpose functionality — today’s  E Ink displays that make such devices attractive aren’t as effective for activities like browsing the web or viewing video. New display technologies are needed to support those use cases. Two that come to mind: Qualcomm’s (s qcom) Mirasol low-powered color panel and Pixel Qi’s innovative dual-mode screen, which can use ambient light instead of a power-hungry backlight as needed. With its next-generation “E Ink mode” you can watch a fast-frame movie on the Pixel Qi screen — skip to the 9:30 mark of my CES video to see how well this display works.

As a voracious reader and former Amazon Kindle 2 owner, I see both sides of the page when it comes to dedicated e-book readers. On the one hand, I love the paper-like reading experience a dedicated E Ink reader provides. Combine that with a light device that doesn’t require a battery recharge for weeks and it’s no wonder I took my Kindle everywhere I went. But after just one day with my iPad, I sold my Kindle, mainly because I didn’t want to tote both devices and the Kindle for iPad application provides the same experience as the original. Plus, although everyone’s eyes are different, I don’t buy into the eye-strain argument in favor of E Ink. I’m already looking at an LCD display for 10-12 hours a day on my computers — what’s another hour or two?

In other words, I didn’t wait until 2013 to switch from a dedicated reader to a multifunction device. And with the expected onslaught of slates and tablets this year — by and large, e-book devices use a slate form factor — I imagine I won’t be the only one. One portable device with embedded broadband for web, social networks and other online activities appears to be the future. There’s still a market for standalone e-book devices — folks that prefer E Ink over LCD or people who would rather check email or visit the web on a traditional computer will opt for an e-book — but these consumers will be in the minority as people will opt for converged connected devices. For continued growth and success, e-book readers have to add new functionality in order to compete for consumer dollars.

This market isn’t really about hardware, anyway; it’s about the sale of content — and Amazon is still expected to earn a billion dollars on digital books, even if its Kindle hardware doesn’t continue to sell well. That explains why Amazon created a Kindle for iPad application and why Barnes & Noble today outed its reader software for Apple’s slate: More content on more devices equals more money.

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13 Responses to “Why e-Book Reader Sales Are Seen Heading South”

  1. Mark me down as someone doesn’t particularly want a bunch of other functions mixed in with his reading. When I’m reading, I want to read, not watch videos, and most of the places I read when I’m not at home are places that I wouldn’t want to be watching video anyway. If I want music, I have an iPod.

    Although some people go giddy over the idea of a single device for every purpose, I have noticed that if I use one device for music and another one for reading, I can maximize the battery life on both.

    • “Although some people go giddy over the idea of a single device for every purpose, I have noticed that if I use one device for music and another one for reading, I can maximize the battery life on both.”

      Definitely a good point, although the iPad seems to run for a solid 10-11 hours regardless of the activity. I watched 7 episodes of BSG on a plane flight this week and it used only 22% of the battery, or about the same as if I was reading on the Kindle for iPad app. Having said that, I truly appreciated the 3 to 4 weeks my Kindle would go on a charge. If the iPad didn’t easily last a full day, I would have kept my Kindle for that very reason.

      • David

        I agree that ¨one device to rule them all¨ is only good in theroy. I have never wanted a smartphone to play my music and would rather have a dedicated player. Just like I want an ereader as a dedicated reader (until they greatly reduce the weight and increase the battery life). I do see the ipad taking over the netbook and some of the laptop market if it had a nice foldup/portable keyboard that you only needed to take out when writing something lengthy.

  2. I do take my kindle everywhere… and there’s no way in hell I would take an iPad, or any other 500-bucks’ worth of multipurpose lcd-screen electronics.

    The kindle is cheap and hardy, I have no problem putting it in my pocket ( and it actually fits in multiple pockets in my clothing).

    I read everywhere. Waiting for the train, in the train, waiting in line at the supermarket, waiting for an appointment at the doctor’s, at the beach, on a jet plane ( no matter how long the trip ), etc.

    One of the reasons is cost, of course. Here’s a hint, 500 bucks is a stunning price for something like an iPad… but that doesn’t mean cheap! It’s far away from a quasi-disposable device.

    The kindle is still not quite disposable, but close enough that I can afford to buy another on the very day I loose this one. And it’s small. And it lasted a month once, reading every day…

    And this is where dedicated e-ink devices rule the roost. The iPad would stay at home, as a very cool support device. It might travel in a back-pack, if I got a serious raise. But it would never substitute the kindle.

    • “I do take my kindle everywhere… and there’s no way in hell I would take an iPad, or any other 500-bucks’ worth of multipurpose lcd-screen electronics.”

      Gus, do you not tote a laptop? Just curious — I realize the iPad doesn’t offer the screen protection of a notebook computer, but the right case or sleeve easily alleviates that issue. I’ve used slate tablet PCs since 2005 — they too have nothing to protect the screens — and even at costs of $1,500 or more, I’ve had no issue bringing them out and about.

      • I take my laptop to every geographic location, but not everywhere. Allow me to explain: I take it to work, and back home, and if I have to travel ( work or pleasure ), it goes with me.

        But it usually stays in a safe place: home, office, hotel, conference center.

        Other than cost, there’s the issue of weight and size, I don’t want to walk around with a backpack all the time. Most of on-the-go need for a device like this is supplied by my smartphone ( an android 2.1 htc magic, btw), far more rugged and portable.

        The point is, I don’t just take the kindle everywhere I would take a laptop/iPad. I take it everywhere I take my wallet, phone and house keys. Scratch that, I forgot my phone last weekend when I went to the beach, but not the kindle.

        It’s not a gadget. Its a book which happens to need electricity.

      • I totally get your use cases, Gus, thanks for explaining. I’m more of a “work anywhere” guy, meaning, I don’t just carry my laptop or iPad around, I use them all over the place. For nearly a year, I used a 7″ UMPC running Windows with a touchscreen, inking and, if needed, a folding BT keyboard.

        I actually carry the iPad in a sleeve-like case, which is from one of my old netbooks. No need for a backpack unless I’m also carrying my notebook. I too use the phone (Nexus One with Android 2.2) for on the go activities but like the ability to quickly use the larger display of the iPad. My Nexus One is also a portable 3G hotspot, so my Wi-Fi iPad works everywhere.

        Different use case and therefore a difference of opinion on using the iPad in lieu of the Kindle. Thanks!

  3. lms10045

    Are you kidding about eye strain? That really is the main reason why I still subscribe to magazines and get books on paper. After surfing the internet, my eyes hurt and even get red sometimes. Long magazine articles are out of the question for me to read on line.

    I just don’t get why someone can’t invent a machine that has “modes”. Something like eInk for reading long form, and then switched to a back lit screen for everything else. And everything I have read is that the iPad is not going to be taking over the country anytime soon. I still don’t know what the point of it is.

    • As I said in the post, everyone’s eyes are different. If eye strain is an issue for you, then a dedicated e-book reader is the way to go. But aside from my sleeping hours, I’m staring at LCD displays in various sizes all day long. And I was reading e-books on smartphones back in 2003 on LCD displays. Don’t get me wrong – e Ink is nice, but after a year of use, I’ve found that my eyes don’t require it.

      “I just don’t get why someone can’t invent a machine that has “modes”. ” Someone did – check the video at the 9:30 mark.