Kindle RIPThe International Business Times seems to be running a special line in anti-Amazon snark. This time it’s the UK edition, covering Waterstones’ withdrawal of Kindle e-readers from sale, under the headline “Waterstones kills Kindle: Why the ereader flopped and paper is making a comeback.” And as with certain other reports on the same story, the UK IBT doesn’t bother to mention that Waterstones only said some stores would be taking Kindles off their shelves. That said, the UK IBT did – inadvertently – raise an interesting point about where the Kindle is going.

The Bookseller ‘s earlier report on the Waterstones story quoted Douglas McCabe, CEO of Enders Analysis, saying: “the e-reader may turn out to be one of the shortest-lived consumer technology categories.” And it takes just one Google to turn up links going back at least three years about the decline of the e-reader device category versus general-purpose tablets. But who created the e-reader category in the first place? Arguably, Amazon. After all, Amazon was the firm who pushed the Kindle to category-defining status. The Sony Reader and other book-oriented hardware came before the Kindle. But the Kindle is the category killer of e-reading devices, just as Amazon itself is instanced as the category killer for online retail. And who just killed that category? Amazon.

I don’t mean that dedicated e-readers will cease to exist. I do mean that they will recede into a very narrow niche, with less and less influence on the e-book market as a whole. (Something like digital photo frames are now, maybe.) Why? Because Amazon, the category killer in e-book sales as well, is now throwing its muscle behind a flagship general-purpose tablet that undercuts its own category-defining e-reader on price. And it’s pushing it through the same channels, under the same brand umbrella, head to head with the Kindle itself.

Yes, I’m talking about the new Amazon Kindle Fire 7″ tablet. And yes, I may have been sniffy about Amazon’s attempts to strong-arm us all into calling it simply the “Fire” or even “fire.” But I’m not remotely sniffy about its advantages, and its prospects.

I mean, imagine you’re A. General Reader, or T. Gadget Buyer, going online to Amazon to buy a Christmas prezzie, or just making an impulse purchase. You’re presented with a choice of the Kindle Fire 7 at $49.99, with color screen, audio, video, expandable memory, games, the Amazon Appstore, etc. etc. Or the basic Kindle at $79.99. Your extra thirty bucks is going to buy you a black and white screen, and no apps, no video, no etc., no etc. Yes, you will have a screen you can read in bright sunlight. Is that really going to make you shell out the extra?

And why would Amazon want you to? If they put the Kindle Fire 7 into your hands at so much less than the basic Kindle – though still at a manufacturing cost they can easily afford – and sell you videos, games, music, and apps, as well as e-books, why wouldn’t they? Oh, and link you in to their broader e-commerce and online shopping offering too, for everything from groceries to $120,000 chandeliers. Yes, the new Kindle Fire 7 will cannibalize Amazon’s sales of e-paper Kindles, but Amazon is going to be one fat, happy cannibal.

It’s very hard now to imagine Amazon launching a new e-paper e-reader in future unless it’s either much cheaper than the Kindle Fire 7, or offers some other breakthrough technology or dazzling services. (Ultrathin ultralight e-paper devices, maybe? Full color e-paper?) The new Kindle Fire 7 will support e-book sales growth well enough, as well as other content areas. Amazon is still seeing its Kindle readership grow across platforms from smartphones to desktops. And as the UK IBT did imply, people who don’t like onscreen reading are simply likely to plump for printed paper. The ones who plump for e-paper instead will be a vanishingly small minority. Amazon will likely just let them scrabble in the no-brand Asian-made gadget bargain bin.

Plus, the UK IBT quotes Amazon as saying: “our devices are now available in over 2,500 retail locations across the UK, including Argos, Tesco, Dixons, John Lewis and recent additions like Sainsbury’s, Boots and Shop Direct. Our UK, US and worldwide Kindle book sales are growing in 2015.” Sounds like Waterstones, not Amazon, are the ones losing out.

Yes, this may signal the terminal retreat of the e-reader as a dedicated device linked to books, and bookstores. And the final migration of tablets suitable for e-reading into the general electronics category. But the demise of the e-book market as a whole? No way. Amazon may have just rung the death knell for a hardware type it pioneered, but it’s by no means written finis to e-readers as a software/app category, or to its own domination of the e-book market. That’s only likely to grow – if need be, from the grave of the old style Kindle.


  1. @Maluus: Agreed. But, at least in an edit made shortly after the post went up, the commentary covered that: “The Sony Reader and other book-oriented hardware came before the Kindle. But the Kindle is the category killer of e-reading devices, just as Amazon itself is instanced as the category killer for online retail.” If you really, really want to go back, I can recall working for a laptop magazine in the 1990s and writing about the Sony Data Discman.

  2. The advantages of an e-ink reader are obviously not appreciated by most people. As someone who likes to kick back and read, I like not having to charge it for weeks. My latest Kobo H2O is even waterproof so I can read in the bath safely. It glows softly so I can read in bed easily too. I think maybe Amazon thinks there’s more money in selling you paper books again.

  3. I didn’t have any problem with the article. In saying “Amazon created the e-reader category,” Paul was pretty much right. Sure, e-readers have been around for some time, but only a few early adopters really cared about them, or about ebooks in general, before Amazon made the Kindle. Suddenly there was enough interest to make them a category, rather than a curiosity.

    As for whether the $50 Fire will “kill” that category, I have my doubts, but we’ll see. E-ink readers aren’t that much more expensive. Indeed, the cheapest e-ink Kindle is just about the same price. It’s kind of early yet to call it one way or another.

  4. What’s disappointing is how narrowly focused the ereader market is. Most, if not all, are the size of trade paperbacks. They’re intended for adults reading novels and basic biographies because that’s where the ebook sales are.

    What’s lacking are ereaders that are larger or smaller because they target other markets.

    * Larger. Both law and the sciences are heavily invested in fixed-format PDF documents intended to be printed on 8.5×11 or A4 paper. In law the fonts are large and the lines are numbered and widely spaced. In the sciences, the fonts are small with multiple columns. But the result is the same. Neither (particularly science documents) are easy to read on the typical ereader or tablet. Paper gets wasted printing them out.

    * Smaller. To encourage kids to read, we need a rugged, jeans-pocket-sized ereader with no confusing added features. Kids need something with a days long battery life, so they need not bother to recharge it every day. That’s epaper. They also need a screen they can read outdoors. That’s also epaper. But who is making a pocket-sized one?

    The problem with an Amazon-dominated market it that it cares not for either niche market and any other company who might create one is struggling with such a small ereader market share, that they have no money to create larger or smaller ereaders.

  5. I hope the e-reader will be around for a long time. Like Jeff Penver, I appreciate the long battery life of my Kindle Voyage, the soft backlight for night time reading, plus I love the size. It fits my hand nicely, isn’t painful to hold (which is the main reason I gave up printed books for the most part). I tried reading on my husbands iPad, and while the presentation of 2 pages and nice font and look was a plus, the weight of the iPad—as well as it’s size—was so hurtful to my hands I gave it up. I simply don’t see myself relaxing for hours at a time with a Fire.

  6. You can still buy a hand held calculators, ranging from simple four function devices to scientific-programmable-graphing devices. This is despite the fact that cellphones and tablets come with calculator apps. Obviously, people still buy these calculators, or they would not be manufactured and offered for sale.

    Similarly, I am sure that single purpose eReader devices will continue to be manufactured and sold for the foreseeable future. Some people prefer them, and some company will find it worthwhile to meet that demand.

  7. Battery life is what keeps me on a dedicated e-reader instead of a tablet. Over the years I have read some predictions that improved battery life would eventually kill off the e-reader in favor of the tablet. But as far as I can tell, each new tablet has a battery life of up to 10 hours, maybe 15. One inherent problem with a tablet’s battery life is that there is a constant production of battery-consuming apps. Improved battery life gets killed by more apps.

  8. I don’t think the Fire will kill the e-ink Kindle for a god while. I don’t know about other e-ink devices, but I am pretty sure people who own e-ink Kindles buy more ebooks, on average, than those who have a tablet with an app, even a Kindle Fire. Amazon might not keep innovating e-ink readers, but I think they will keep selling them as long as this statistic holds true.

  9. Seems the author has no idea what makes a principal difference between reading experience on e-reader and a tablet. Try to read on Kindle or any other modern e-reader for a week, and then edit your article again, or better remove it completely.

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