Earlier this week the Financial Times ruffled a few feathers when it suggested that sales of e-reader devices may slump for the first time, and that too considerably, in 2013. The story cites estimates by research firms IHS iSuppli and Forrester.
According to IHS, sales of Amazon’s Kindle e-readers are expected to drop from 23 million units in 2011 to 15 million in 2012 and then further down to 7 million by 2016. (Though it was immediately not clear if these estimates included Kindle’s more recent line of tablet computers powered by the Android operating system.)
On the one hand this seems counter-intuitive. These pessimistic estimates buck an otherwise booming trend of sales for digital books. Previously this newspaper has written about the speed with which digital versions of books are catching up, and in many cases, overtaking the sales of traditional print volumes. Much of this growth has come thanks to the easy availability of cheap, hardy readers that have made the purchase and delivery processes friction free, and often last for weeks on a single charge.
However, a new generation of dirt-cheap tablets makes single-purpose devices such as readers somewhat obsolete. So it is little wonder users may be opting for tablets for their reading and computing needs.
The mistake here would be to assume that weak e-reader sales equate with a weakening e-book ecosystem. In fact Amazon, more than any other e-book retailer, will be pleased with this new trend. It has long been rumoured that Amazon makes no profit from the sales of most of its devices. In fact it may be quite possible that it is deliberately losing money on some of them. But the billions burnt so far have helped establish a new ecosystem and a booming consumer base. As long as consumers purchase books through one of Amazon’s Kindle software applications, the retailer may actually be better off not selling any Kindles at all.
The e-book seems to be here for good. That fact alone continues to be more disruptive than the novelty of the latest device you read them on.
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