Thursday, 8 October 2015

Peak e-reader ?

Waterstone's, the big UK bookshop chain has stopped reselling the Kindle. At the same time, their competitor, who resells the Nook, reports that sales are flat, with few people buying an e-reader for the first time, and those sales that they have are people replacing failed devices.

This shouldn't surprise us. E-readers are conceptually simple devices that do one or two things very well. There's no pressure to upgrade or replace unless the device breaks or is left out in a summer storm.

For example, while I use a Kindle for recreational reading, I still use my 2009 vintage Cool-er for reading public domain epubs and cleaned up texts such as Ernesta Drinker's diary. Despite being totally unsupported my Cool-er still works fine - the only problem being that the paint has scuffed off some of the arrow keys.

So that's one problem. The devices are reliable. The other problem is the multiple device problem. A lot of reading takes place on public transport, and if you've already got a tablet with you why carry a second device when you can just as easily read your book on your tablet?

So it's probably legitimate to say that the e-reader device is saturated, at least in the developed, English speaking world. Due to the cheapness of tablets these days less developed countries may never do the e-reader thing, especially as the tablet is considerably more flexible as a resource - after all if you'd a choice between a $100 tablet and a $100 ereader, which would you choose?

None of this says anything about e-book adoption rates.

E-books remain a versatile distribution medium. There will always be people that prefer paper books and those books  that simply aren't available in an electronic format. And there's definitely a role for them as reference material.

But e-books are here to stay.

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