Sales of dedicated e-readers aren’t growing as fast as those of tablets, but are still expected to nearly triple in the next five years. Juniper Research estimated on Tuesday that 67 million e-reader devices will be sold in 2016, as compared to 25 million this calendar year. That may pale in comparison to the 55.2 million tablet sales forecast for 2011 by Juniper — especially when e-books can be read on tablets — but the e-reader market is still showing solid growth.
I’ve been reading e-books since 2003: back in the days when the PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant, was a pre-cursor to the smartphones of today. Between that history, my own observations and hundreds of reader comments on the topic over the years, there are at least five reasons I can think of that e-readers are here to stay and grow over the coming years, as Juniper says.
- E-ink displays are still preferred by many and will keep improving. Although some people don’t feel eye-strain from traditional LCD screens, e-Ink is easier for some to read on. The annoying flash between page views has been reduced over the past few years and will likely get better in the future. We may even have color e-ink screens that would be useful for magazine content.
- Prices have fallen and may continue to drop. It’s almost hard to believe that the first Kindle four years ago debuted at $399. Amazon(s amzn) has improved the device, expanded the line, and added a touch-screen version. Yet, consumers can now have a basic Kindle for as little as $79 (see our recent review here), and by this time next year, it could be even cheaper. Even if Amazon holds the price at $79 for future Kindles, it’s an impulse buy for quite a large group of consumers.
- Ability to focus on a single task. Nearly every tablet available today is capable of reading digital content thanks to software options. Indeed, it’s the software that makes tablets so desirable: With just a small download, the device can do some new task. But e-readers are generally single-purpose devices allowing people to simply read and not worry about e-mails, social networks, app notifications or other activities that take away from the experience of curling up with a good book.
- Battery life is king. Owing to the e-Ink displays, standalone e-readers have run times measured in weeks and months, not hours or days like tablets. I don’t expect that to change for either e-readers or tablets in the next few years. The convenience of not having to worry if your e-reader has juice is big selling point, and adds to the desirable simplicity of the device.
- Size matters. Obviously, you can read e-books on a large tablet, and many choose to do so. But reading a book for any extended time on a 9- or 10-inch tablet gets tiring — especially if you hold the device while reading, just as you would a traditional book. E-readers are smaller, lighter and more portable than traditional tablets, and even than many books.