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

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 (s amzn), the Barnes & Noble Nook (s bks), and Sony Reader (s sne) 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 (s aapl), 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 (s goog), 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.

9 Responses to “The page turns: Tablets to outsell e-readers by 2012”

  1. I am worried when I read this kind of post. e-readers and tablets are different products, addressing different needs. The bottom line is that I can read a book on a device but not on a LCD tablet.

    I love my ipad for web browsing and to access multimedia contents but my kindle is my default device to read books and newspapers.

    Please Amazon don’t switch to LDC tablet. You are going to loose your customers.

  2. Is it me, or researchers are wrong most of the time?

    Did the researchers took into consideration colour ink that support animation? or glasses with augmented layer? or even simple solution as device which combine LCD and e-ink?

    All mentioned solution are under development. Obviously they didn’t took into consideration what we still don’t know.

    • Michael, all good points about potential product developments specifically for ebooks. We’ve covered some of them here, in fact: Qualcomm’s Mirasol display and the Pixel Qi solution, for example. Unfortunately, either for technical or other reasons, these haven’t panned out yet in mainstream products, and they’ve been demoed for 2 – 3 years if not more. That doesn’t mean they aren’t coming, but until they arrive (or show an inclination of their arrival) it’s not likely they’ll be considered in any estimates. I think your last sentence sums it up nicely.

  3. Mike S

    In other news, bread outsells dedicated e-readers, and so does milk. Apples to oranges in this article.

    I have both a Kindle and a tablet, and I do extended reading on the Kindle. People who are heavily into reading will probably gravitate toward non-backlit displays, no matter how many tablets are sold. Do you really think that most people buying tablets are buying them to read on?

  4. Nobody reads an ebook on a backlit LCD. No need to compare or talk about one replacing the other. Only when Pixel Qi LCD is in every tablet and it being as good as E-ink, then you can start talking about Tablets replacing e-ink e-readers, until then, stop your comparing.

    Also, not 26% of consumers own an e-reader, but 26 out of 1000, which means 2.6% for e-ink e-readers and 3.8% of US consumers own a tablet, otherwise it makes no sense, consumers don’t buy this stuff that fast.

    • Charbax, as always, I love your enthusiasm, but sometimes it interferes with reality. ;) “Nobody reads an ebook on a backlit LCD.” Nobody? Really? Why would the Kindle app be a top app in the iTunes app store? How could Apple claim 130m iBook titles downloaded? I understand that some don’t want to read on a backlit display — I specifically said that, in fact — but some do.

  5. E-readers will break through the $100 mark and settle into the Franklin handheld niche with even lower prices. Tablets will hold value as they become more powerful and capable, displacing a large portion of mobile devices with keyboards.

  6. Lucian Armasu

    This is why I think Amazon will try and take the Android tablet market by storm by the end of the year. Their 10″ Tegra 3 tablet seems to be competitively priced at $449, but I don’t think the 7″ Tegra 2 one should be $349. It may sound like a good price right now, but it might be too much by the end of the year. It should be $299 at most.

    I also think they’ll continue to make e-ink e-readers, and will probably launch a higher quality $99 e-reader in the first half of next year. They might also try a Mirasol based e-reader, if they haven’t given up on that idea yet.

    Either way, the shift from e-readers to tablets shouldn’t affect Amazon’s market share of ebooks too much.