For quite some time now, which is another way of saying I can’t remember when exactly, I’ve been saying that e-readers are one screen improvement in phones/tablets away from redundancy. Now tech writers (whom I love) are coming round to my way of thinking, with a recent article in Salon suggesting that e-readers are going the way of mp3 players and vinyl:
Tech writers have begun rolling out their eulogies for the humble e-reader, which Mashable has deemed “the next iPod.” As in, it’s the next revolutionary, single-purpose device that’s on the verge of being replaced by smartphones and tablet computers. Barnes & Noble is spinning off its Nook division. Amazon just debuted its own smartphone, which some are taking as a tacit admission that more people are reading books on their phone these days, to the detriment of the Kindle. The analysts at Forrester, meanwhile, expect that U.S. e-reader sales will tumble to 7 million per year by 2017, down from 25 million in 2012.
At New York Magazine, Kevin Roose argues that this is “bad news for the book industry.” He writes:
If you’ve ever tried to read a book on your phone, you’ll know why. Reading on an original Kindle or a Nook is an immersive experience. There are no push notifications from other apps to distract you from your novel, no calendar reminders or texts popping up to demand your immediate attention. And this immersion is partly why people who use dedicated e-readers tend to buy a lot of books. (One survey indicated that e-book readers read about 24 books a year, compared to 15 books a year for paper-and-ink readers.)
A drop in e-book sales, which are actually more profitable for publishers than hardcovers, would certainly mean trouble for the industry. But I’m not convinced that’s where the death of e-readers will lead. Nook and Kindle owners might buy more books than your typical American, but I’m guessing a lot of that is simply because they’re more, well, bookish. As Pew wrote in January, “Adults who own e-readers like Kindles or Nooks read e-books more frequently than those who only own other devices (like tablets or cell phones). However, it is difficult to know whether that is because dedicated e-readers encourage more reading or because avid readers are more likely to purchase e-reading devices.”
Devices come. Devices go. The Kindle and Nook helped teach us all to pay for e-books, and I’m guessing that will be delivering publishers dividends for years to come.
I think we can all agree that e-books themselves aren’t dying, or books for that matter. I’d argue that reading a novel, or similar, will continue to be a pastime for many years to come, regardless of medium: digital, physical, or metaphysical. We’ll probably still be reading books when flame breathing giant lizards enter our dimension to destroy civilisation. After that time we’ll be too busy building something other than giant robots to fight the monsters to worry about reading.
When e-readers originally hit the market, phone screens were much smaller and the iPad was in its infancy, thus the e-ink screens of the e-readers offered a much better reading experience. They were a hit with the avid reading crowd, with the ability to shop for books, read them, shop for more books, read them, maybe do a bit more reading, then think about charging the e-reader in between side-loading some more books. But all of those advantages were heavily reliant upon the better reading experience.
Phones and tablets as e-readers have many advantages: they tend to go everywhere with us; they can access all libraries; they can access all online bookshops, not just the one you bought the e-reader from (*cough* Amazon *cough*); they can be used for audiobooks; they have a larger market share so better technology advancements (i.e. where’s the colour e-ink we were promised?); and they can do things other than be used as a reading device. Now with a range of screen sizes in phones and tablets (e.g. Samsung Note, iPad Mini, iPad, standard phone, etc) there is a non-dedicated e-reader suited to you!
Although, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. This magical new screen I’m seeing in my crystal ball – did I mention I see a breakup on the horizon for Brad and Angelina? – isn’t here yet. Until we have the new screen and e-reader owners are upgrading or replacing their old devices, the dedicated e-ink e-reader is still going to be the device of reading choice for avid readers. The articles are talking about a decline in sales from a peak of 25 million in 2012, to a “predicted” 7 million in 2017. Is this really surprising regardless of a tech upgrade?
You see, this is why I love tech articles so much: the lack of a reality check. 25 million sales in 2012 (26 million in 2011 from my source), on top of other sales in previous years, pretty much taps out the avid reader market to sell e-reader devices to. So any sales after that are going to be from old e-readers dying and needing replacement, which is probably where the 7 million figure comes in (note that my source shows that to occur in 2016, not 2017). That isn’t the death of the e-reader, that is the maturation of the market. I guess we could try to convince avid readers to not spend as much money on books and instead spend more money on buying e-readers, but that would lead to all sorts of problems. We’d need shelves to store all of these e-readers on, maybe even taking up entire walls; file them using some sort of system that allows us to easily find them in order; perhaps hire a person, let’s call them a librarian, to look after these e-readers until someone comes to use them.
So despite my agreement that e-readers will eventually be replaced by other devices, I think that news of the death of the e-reader is greatly exaggerated.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are these things called electronic books now, e-books for short. Now these are brand new (invented 1971, possibly as early as 1949) and understandably the devices to read them are even newer (first e-reader released 1998). So it may come as a shock to many of you that quite a few people read e-books on e-readers now instead of paper books. It will come as even more of a shock to you that the Sony e-reader has become a thing of the past.
That’s right my fellow book lovers – lovers in the adoration sense, not in the brace yourself, oh yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh, chikka bow-wow, sense – it appears that Sony has decided it doesn’t want a dedicated e-reader, in fact it doesn’t even want an e-book store. They have announced that they are pulling out and customers are being transferred to the Kobo store.
Of course, I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised by this decision. Raise your hand if you’ve ever actually seen a Sony e-reader. Now keep it up if you’ve actually owned one. If you can see anyone with their hand still raised, I’d question how you manage to turn people’s web cams on. Sony has been playing at the bottom end of the market for e-readers and e-books for quite a while now. The chart below from Goodreads shows Sony were picking up Kobo’s scraps in the market.
So what does this mean for us readers? Well, it means the big dedicated e-readers remain, the Kindle and Nook. It also means Kobo could pick up a bit more of the e-reader and e-book market. But that isn’t particularly interesting to me, I’ll discuss why in a moment. What is interesting is the Sony e-reader is probably the victim of the modern device market.
I read an interesting tech article that was discussing mobile phones. They pointed out that the companies making money on phones weren’t actually making money on the phone sales, especially at the mid to lower price points, but instead cashing in on the app stores and downloads. The phone is a loss leader for the software business they run. Nokia and their deal with Microsoft is a classic example of this, with Nokia battling to compete for market share and profits.
Translate that to e-readers and the same thing applies. It was even worse for Sony, as the other competitors were/are selling their Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc, as a loss leader to get people using their store or affiliates. This meant that the big stores attract the users, who buy the associated tech, which locks them to the stores (to some extent at least), leading to e-book sales profits. Terrific! As long as you don’t think too hard about the slave labour making the devices.
The reason I don’t find the market positioning of the e-reader devices of much interest is down to a few things. The first is a little statistic that has been showing up in surveys from Goodreads and The Pew Institute; namely that 29-37% of people read books on their phone (23% on a tablet). A dedicated reading device is only really in the book space now because the e-reader screen has less eye fatigue. At the moment! Watch this bubble burst as phones and tablets eat away at the readability technology, such that e-reader screens become redundant. Mobile devices also don’t have to be linked to any one e-book store, so interesting times are on the horizon.
Another view on e-readers future: http://techland.time.com/2013/01/04/dont-call-the-e-reader-doomed/
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sometime last year Matt Hilton recommended a few authors to me, one of them being Sean Black. I dutifully downloaded a sample of Lockdown onto my Kindle, just letting it sit there, doing the electronic equivilent of gathering dust. Actually, in the digital age, I wonder if we will develop so many little phrases like “gathering dust” since the electronic medium has a lack of physical presence to have relatable descriptions assigned.
Over a year later I finally started Sean’s first novel, bought the full Kindle version, and plowed through this fast paced novel. I really enjoyed the brisk narrative and I could see similarities to Matt’s writing, which is probably why he was recommending Sean’s work.
Guess now I have to find more of Sean’s books.
I have to admit that this was my first Barry Eisler book. Sure, I’ve read plenty of his comments about writing, e-books, the rise of the independent authors, his love of internet memes; but this was the first time I’ve been able to grab one of his books to read.
Before I comment on the book itself, I just wanted to say that this was a library book that I borrowed. Yes this point is significant. With the current turmoil over Amazon becoming a publisher there was a lot of talk about boycotting and limiting access of Amazon published books in bookstores and libraries. Clearly there wasn’t much substance to that particular stance, since this Thomas and Mercer published book was right there on the library shelf for me to read.
Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Would I read another of Barry’s thrillers? Yes. Then why only three stars? Well, simply put, the book was solid but not spectacular. It kept me entertained, but didn’t keep me glued the way 4 and 5 star books do. This was more to do with the second half of the book and what felt like a petering out of tension.
Either way, I look forward to reading some of the earlier books in the Rain series.
There are some books that you read and feel enlightened about the world around you. There are some books that are fascinating and insightful, making you think. Then there are some that are just unashamedly fun.
McGrave is a straight up actioneer, pure fun, and revels in what some would call cheesy cliches. Instead these cliches are actually part of the humour Less has used to make this story fun.
This story was originally written as a pilot for TV and reminds me greatly of the 80s cop shows. In fact, if you ever saw the hilarious Sledge Hammer, then you could imagine a similar take on action and cop adventure played straight. This McGrave adventure is certainly an escapist pleasure and it had me laughing and entertained throughout.
Treat yourself, unless your idea of a treat is Tolstoy.
Barry Eisler is an interesting fellow, but this blog post is mainly for my writer friends.
I can’t claim to have read any of Barry’s books yet – although I have bought two which are waiting on my Kindle to-be-read list – but he does have some interesting things to say about publishing and writing. These videos are from a Q&A session he did in Boston. Enjoy.