The page turns: Tablets to outsell e-readers by 2012

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Tablets are on pace to outsell standalone e-readers, although there’s still money to be made from e-reader hardware. Research firm In-Stat said Monday that the broader market will be drawn to multi-purpose devices instead of single-function units, such as traditional e-readers like the Kindle. Even with an estimated 40 million e-readers sold by 2015, far more consumers will turn to tablets because they can be used to read e-books as well as browse the web, manage email, game and communicate.

For a pure reading experience, most would agree that devices such as Amazon’s Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader are exceptional. All use high-contrast electronic ink screens that only use power when “turning” the page, so the batteries last for weeks or months at a time. These also focus the user solely on reading with few to no external distractions. I sold my Kindle for an iPad, since the tablet can double as an e-reader, but I sometimes miss the simplicity of my old e-reader. I can read without any distractions like email notifications or the desire to check my Twitter stream, for example.

Perhaps the best, and worst, development in the recent history of e-books is the ability to read content on multiple devices. That’s what enabled me to sell my Kindle: Amazon’s software for iOS brings e-book reading to the tablet with a wide range of additional functionality. Other e-reader platforms have followed suit, and that has allowed tablet owners to continue enjoying digital books, provided they don’t mind giving up the paper-like eInk display of a dedicated e-reader. In-Stat’s survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, for example, shows 38 percent own a tablet vs just 26 percent who own an e-reader.

I doubt, however, that the current e-book sellers will cease making hardware anytime soon, as there are still too many people who prefer the focused experience an e-reader brings. Besides, the booksellers make the same money from content regardless of the device it’s read on. Barnes & Noble as well as Kobo have bucked the tablet trend by recently introducing new standalone devices at prices under $139. Amazon has dropped the price of its Kindle to as low as $114, provided consumers don’t mind seeing special offer advertisements.

On the other hand, the Nook Color actually doubles as a usable Android device , complete with apps, while Amazon is expected to debut its own tablet later this year. Again, software is driving the change. With a download, e-books can be read on smartphones, tablets or even a personal computer, in a pinch. This flexibility helps me read two to three e-book titles a week. Whenever I have a few minutes, I simply read with whatever device I have on hand. For some that will be single purpose device, but for a growing number of consumers, a connected tablet will be the e-reader of choice.

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