Who Killed the E-Reader?
Who killed the E-Reader? We round up the usual suspects.
CREDIT: MGM, TechNewsDaily composite
The year 2011 was the e-reader’s heyday. That year saw the worldwide shipment of approximately 23.2 million units, more than double the amount in 2010, according to market research firm iSuppli. But the very next year, e-reader sales plummeted to a relatively paltry 14.9 million units.
What happened? Who (or what) killed the e-reader?
Prime suspect: the manufacturers
From 2007 to 2010, the e-reader had a monopoly on the bigger-than-a-smartphone-but-smaller-than-a-laptop market. But when the iPad launched in 2010, consumer demand for tablets suddenly surged. In 2011, Amazon.com jumped on the growing tablet market with the Kindle Fire, an Android-operated tablet computer with a 7-inch color screen instead of the E Ink surface. Nook and Kobo, the two other major e-reader sellers, also released tablets within the year. By throwing their resources behind e-readers-turned-tablets, the sellers essentially cannibalized their own e-reader markets.
Acquitted: the publishers
From a publishing point of view, the survival of e-readers doesn’t really matter a great deal, said Michael Shatzkin, a digital publishing consultant and founder of the Idea Logical Company. As the number of devices with e-book capabilities increases, it’s pretty much a guarantee that consumption of e-books will increase as well, whether consumers are reading them on dedicated e-readers or on multipurpose devices like smartphones or computers.
Prime suspect: multipurpose devices
E-readers might be less expensive than tablets — compare Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite at $119 with its Kindle Fire HD, $199 — but if you’re going to get one device, shelling out the extra $80 for an almost exponential increase in features starts to look pretty good.
Acquitted: the E Ink technology
E Ink is the e-reader’s biggest advantage over all its competitors. The screen technology is easy on the eyes, simulating the look of ink on paper instead of the illuminated window found on computers, tablets and smartphones.
Tablets are harder to look at: Their high-contrast screen, combined with its backlit display, oversaturates the retina with light, causing eye fatigue.
“There are a lot of people who really can’t read for a long time on an iPad,” said Dr. Barbara Chaparro, director of Wichita State University’s Software Usability Research Lab. “So that’s the beauty of the E Ink — it’s like reading paper. You’re not getting the eye fatigue.”
Prime suspect: ergonomics
This one’s surprising — while E Ink surfaces are much better for your eyes than backlit screens, the way users hold e-readers is typically much worse for us than the way we hold tablets or smartphones, said Dr. Anthony Andre of the Human Factors and Ergonomics department at San Jose State University.
E-readers require next to no physical movement, not even the taps and swipes required of tablets, Andre pointed out. And that lack of motion, combined with the way many users will hold an e-reader, can take its toll.
“[E-readers] look small enough to hold out in front of you, suspended in the air with just a pinch grip," Andre said, "but that grip [combined with poor posture]… definitely can and does cause aggravation [to the hand, arm and shoulders].”
Prime suspect: convenience
Why carry three devices when you can carry two? Or two when you can carry one? If e-book content is available across multiple devices, people are going to access it via whatever device is easiest. “I just think as a culture we’re moving everything toward the phone, trying to get everything onto a small tablet or a phone,” said Chaparro. “and it’s really just for convenience’s sake. I love the E Ink technology but if it [means buying] an extra device people are going to think twice about it.”
Don’t count e-readers out just yet, said Shatzkin. He pointed out that despite the availability and popularity of electronic books, paper book usage and sales are still going strong. The projections from HIS iSuppli support this: ereader sales are expected to continue to decrease through 2016, but the rate of decrease shrinks every year as well. Eventually ereaders should find their equilibrium as a consistent niche purchase.
“I think [e-readers] will be part of the mix for a long time,” Shatzkin told TechNewsDaily. “But I suspect that, increasingly, people will chose to read straight text on their phones or on multi-function tablets,” he added.
So while we’ve "booked" our prime suspects, it looks like the e-book might just last a little longer.