As the iPad emerges as a powerful force for e-reading, the fate of dedicated e-book devices is either dim or bright, depending on who you talk to. Last week, Jeff Bezos made a lot of sound and fury about how well the Kindle is selling, but since he keeps all sales figures close to his chest it’s not at all certain what it signifies.
Now Wired has a story about how the iPad is killing off some of the shakier e-reader companies, whose prospects were unclear even before its launch: Audiovox, iRex, Plastic Logic, and Cool-er have all fallen by the wayside, or at least cancelled or stopped selling their e-readers.
Of course, these companies were always also-rans, at least as far as e-book readers are concerned—”Companies that had neither brand nor distribution” as Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps calls them. Whether you believe Bezos’s press releases or not, the Kindle and the Nook still seem to be going strong (though the fact that both have reader apps for other platforms including the iPad undeniably helps).
All this doesn’t mean consumers have completely fallen out of love with e-readers, says Epps. Tablets will outpace e-readers in overall sales, she says, but the shift toward digital books is here to stay. Forrester estimates 6.6 million e-readers will be sold in the United States this year. Approximately 29.4 million e-readers may be sold in the United States by 2016, compared to 59 million tablets.
Mediabistro’s “EBookNewser” blog cites a Forrester Research study indicating that more consumers will want e-readers than an iPad. (However, the full study costs $499, and the executive summary doesn’t go into any details.)
I believe that, over time, e-readers and tablets are going to move a lot closer together until they’re essentially the same device, as with the PDA and the smartphone. Five or ten years from now, there will be almost-disposable cheap-readers, and there will be iPad-like tablet devices, and they’ll all have a lot of the same features. So to an extent the e-reader-vs-iPad dichotomy is going to render itself academic.
In the short term, the e-reader market is going to contract as the big boys compete for business, forcing out smaller players. I suspect we haven’t seen the last e-reader company go out of business yet—not by a long shot.