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back to article E-reader demand slumps, slapped down by slates

E-book readers sales are taking a pummelling from tablets. IDC, a market watcher, reckons some 19.9 million dedicated e-readers will have shipped in 2012 - 28.2 per cent fewer than were shifted in 2011. Lower prices, the rise of the 7in screen, colour, apps, aggressive promotional activity by tablet makers Apple, Amazon and …

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Megaphone

Or could it be....

......that perhaps people are notcing that its normally vastly cheaper to buy a paperback than its digital equivalent?

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Re: Or could it be....

20% cheaper for a start...there's VAT on digital books, but none on the dead tree versions.

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Re: Or could it be....

Especially if bought second hand in a charity shop.

Also there are more potential issues for those who like to read in the bath, or on a beach holiday for example.

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Re: Or could it be....

Other cheaper methods of getting books onto your kindle exist.

Anyhoo, I've just returned from 12 months travelling, where having a vast array of books (travel guides and casual reading) on one tiny little device was an absolute god send.

Also, if you drop a book in the bath, it's only slightly less knackered than if you drop a kindle in the bath.

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Re: Or could it be....

Ebooks are sometimes more expensive than the paperbacks, but for those of us who are regularly waiting for the next book of such and such series for a year or more they're less expensive than the hard back.

A recent example from my life is a book that carries a cover price of $27.50. The ebook, grabbed from Google Play Books, was $14.99. Sure, I could have waited a few more months and grabbed the paperback, but I've been waiting a year for this book already. The last book of this series saw me waiting even longer as its release date kept getting pushed back.

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Re: Or could it be....

"20% cheaper for a start...there's VAT on digital books, but none on the dead tree versions."

That's because you're not buying a book, you're buying a licence.

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WTF?

Re: Or could it be....

That doesn't make sense as you really only notice the price of books after buying the device.

Also, in our abode we spend less on books overall since the Kindle, despite reading more. I put that down to two reasons: 1) easier to look for deals and 2) wider choice. Actually, that is probably one reason, 'wider choice of deals' compared to average book store.

Nah, I reckon saturation is the more likely reason. With a one-trick-pony device you'll only ever appeal to the avid(ish) readers anyway.

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Re: Or could it be....

... and if people's prime (or sole) reading requirement is for material by tent-pole release authors from major publishers, your point is entirely valid.

If, on the other hand, the scope of their requirements includes, or potentially includes, material from non big name authors and books from Independant publishers or self-publishing - not a cat in Hades chance. for a start, because paper versions of those books don't exist.

It's alright. I'll save you the time - I'll pre-offer the view held by some that some/ most/ all of the Independantly published or self-published material out there is rubbish/ low quality/ your cat could write better while asleep on your keyboard. And you are, of course, entitled to that view, and I do, of course, have to confess to some degree of self-interest :-).

But I've read books I considered less than perfect quality from big name authors. And I've read books from the Independant/ self published market that agrees with the above assessment - and books that don't. That were excellent reading material. And the gamble/ cost of finding out?

Very little.

If the only electronic books you want to read are those also available in paper form - that is a choice.

If you're prepared to explore some of the Independant electronic publishers, yes. Some of what you read you won't like. But there's a good chance, some you might. And you won;t go broke finding out.

And no. I'm not telling you who my publishers are - that's not why I'm here, or why I'm posting :-).

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Re: Or could it be....

@Greenawayr

Also, if you drop a book in the bath, it's only slightly less knackered than if you drop a kindle in the bath.

Perfectly true, but you'd be rather more pissed off if you dropped your entire electronic library in there. And also it's normally somewhat cheaper to replace the kind of book you'd read in the bath than it would be to replace the cheapest e-reader. Presuming you don't tend to want to risk splashing expensive first editions or other such expensive tomes

Your point about travelling and such guides when on a lengthy trip is a very valid one though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Or could it be....

"It's alright. I'll save you the time - I'll pre-offer the view held by some that some/ most/ all of the Independantly published or self-published material out there is rubbish/ low quality/ your cat could write better while asleep on your keyboard"

Oh, but that's entirely the point. Self-published books are generally dire. The problem goes further than just a lousy or at best mediocre author; a good book generally benefits hugely from a good editor.

Even a great novelist generally acknowledges the effect that their editor has on moderating excesses, shaping and refining the structure of the book, and having a less subjective investment in favourite aspects- knowing when to cut or expand. They are just as invested in the wood as the trees, and thus spot things that the author alone would miss. A group of nagged friends aren't an adequate replacement for a professional editor, either.

That's before we take into account the more prosaic business of proofreading and general housekeeping.

Even in the vanishingly rare cases where a self-published author is genuinely talented, they are unlikely to have a correspondingly professional editor, or the context and humility to realise that they need one.

If I am reading for pleasure in my increasingly constrained leisure time, I'm generally going to choose something produced in a more professional manner, rather than scrolling through the lexicographal latrines of the self-published listings. There are only so many "touching" stories of 40-somethings finding themselves during a once in a lifetime experience with a handsome international kelp dealer that a body can stand.

For various reasons, I'd prefer to be anonymous during this rant. Assume the worst, if you'd be so kind :)

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Joke

Re: Or could it be....

Also, if you drop a book in the bath, it's only slightly less knackered than if you drop a kindle in the bath."

Dropping a Kindle in the bath is slightly less dangerous to your nads than dropping a full bookcase in the bath.

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Childcatcher

Re: Or could it be....

There are only so many "touching" stories of 40-somethings finding themselves during a once in a lifetime experience with a handsome international kelp dealer that a body can stand."

The second in the trilogy involves a handsome international fish filleter. I'm not sure yet how the third one will go. I'm torn between handsome international truffle hunter and handsome international Reg commentard.

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Re: Or could it be....

"Oh, but that's entirely the point. Self-published books are generally dire. The problem goes further than just a lousy or at best mediocre author; a good book generally benefits hugely from a good editor."

And I would agree with you entirely :-).

And so do a large number of writers - self published and Independantly published.

Which is why most good (and there are places to look to help tell good from less good) Independant publishers employ editors (both Content and Line) - and no few self-published writers pay them themselves. Even though the investment is far from small, and the return highly unlikely to repay said investment. Because that's how those writers see it - investment.

However, yes. One of the problems really is not being able to easily tell in advance which books have undergone the process - and which haven't.

But as I said earlier - I am undoubtedly prejudiced, having just finished four rounds of Content Edits and another three of Line edits for, um, mumblety-mumble. Due out in...

Oh. Right. I'll shut up now :-).

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xyz
Meh

Re: Or could it be....

As the BF of a GF who dropped her first kindle in the bath and her second kindle on the floor, I bought her a Fire HD (with cover this time) when they came out. It's sat in a corner since she got it because it's A) too complicated and B) not cuddly. So I think e-readers do have a place. After spending all day on her laptop or being bombarded with emails on her blackberry, the last thing she wants to do when she wants to relax is think.

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Linux

Re: Or could it be....

...and you can buy a new kindle and all your books will be downloaded to the new device.

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Re: Or could it be....

Works for me. I've almost stopped buying ebooks, they're ludicrously priced considering their many disadvantages. I now find the book I want and then see who's selling it secondhand. I got AN Wilson's excellent book The Victorians, in hardback, for £2.90 including postage. Ebooks are a great idea, but wildly overpriced - and difficult to lend. Lots of good free stuff, though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Or could it be....

That readers will always go for the e-ink version because it's better for reader, that e-readers last for a number of years and that the numbers of people who actually read books has been going down year on year for decades.

The sole reason I bought an e-reader was so that I could throw out all my old books and de-clutter my house. What a saving it will make on moving too as no more heavy boxes full of books to cart from one house to another.

The real problem with e-readers is that reading is actually a finite market, light readers can make do with a small tablet and they also get to amuse themselves with simple games and watching videos.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Or could it be....

"Which is why most good (and there are places to look to help tell good from less good) Independant publishers employ editors (both Content and Line) - and no few self-published writers pay them themselves."

In which case, I'd love to know where these impeccably edited tomes end up; it's certainly not on the Kindle store. A lot of the self-published matter found there is only slightly better-written than the average Reg comment.

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Tools for the job..

Like all things, you choose the best tool for the job if you can..

I've got an e-book reader (Kindle) and a slate (Fusion5 HD Android 10").. The slab does strain the eyes more to read, and I don't use it to read on late at night. It's also wifi only (I have an iPhone to do net type stuff if I really need to connection), so needs PCs to get content.

The Kindle is the connected device. I'm an avid reader, and when going on holiday, more than once I've been sat in the middle of nowhere, and thought "Well, that's the last book done.. What now?", then browsed the book store to grab a new book there and then, and give myself something more to read. The battery life means I can do that for days between recharges.. Great for trekking round.

Tablets have all you need for media, and watching a quick movie, or browsing net, email, and all the photo editing on a journey after downloading the DSLR images.. There's plenty of scope for both, as their primary roles are significantly different.

If you've only got budget for one, then the tablet is the choice.. If you're precious about your reading experience (I am), then eBook readers are the way to go there.. Taking enough paperbacks for me to last a long holiday (2 weeks plus) would mean I lose half my weight allowance in books! Nowhere to stow the diving kit then (as that stuff gets heavy!).

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Makes sense

E-book readers are vastly superior to tablets for the simple act of reading, but most punters would like to be able to do web and Facebook too (not to mention Angry Birds).

I don't buy the complaining about VAT. The publishing companies should already be passing on far more than this in the savings they make in not having to produce physical copies (and perhaps take into account that DRM protected ebooks can't be left on a park bench for someone else to read). If you don't like the VAT, complain to your MP.

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Re: Makes sense

"The publishing companies should already be passing on far more than this in the savings they make in not having to produce physical copies (and perhaps take into account that DRM protected ebooks can't be left on a park bench for someone else to read)"

You'd think wouldn't you... but no, corporate greed comes in to play and publishers just see currency symbols in front of their eyes...

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Re: Makes sense

Actually it turns out the physical costs of producing a book (binding, printing, distribution etc) are quite cheap compared to the cost of writing the things, editing them and whatnot.

As ebooks still have the latter costs, I can kind of understand how they're not massively cheaper, although I would still expect them to be slightly cheaper (idiotic VAT aside).

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Holmes

how many do people need ?

I mean, once you've got one, there's now "do i need another" ? most of the people I know who were thinking about one, have got one in the last couple of years..

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Anonymous Coward

Re: how many do people need ?

It's exactly that. Once you've bought an e-ink device, there's not really much need to buy another one.

For example, I personally wouldn't spend over £100 just to upgrade to one with a built-in light. However, if a colour e-ink device was made available, it could be tempting for those who read books that contain colour images in them (for example Photoshop books).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: how many do people need ?

Indeed, dave, you make a good point. My first Kindle still works well, holds a charge, runs for weeks.

Mind, I am one of the weak gadget nuts who fell for the paperwhite, too- which is actually bloody brilliant. However, the point is that it was self-indulgence (though it is bloody brilliant for reading on dark railway platforms). I suppose most people are more sensible than me- if they have a working e-reader, that might just be enough.

(The ONLY thing that I miss on the paperwhite are the physical page turn buttons, but I got over it..)

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Re: how many do people need ?

Yup, I was going to make the same post until I saw yours.

I like my e-ink device. The fact that I don't need to constantly re-charge is a huge plus. But I bought it a couple of years ago, and the features they're advertising now still haven't spurred me to upgrade. Color e-ink might do it, even if it was a simple four-color palette.

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Meh

People have ereades perhaps?

They've been out a while and (other than the backlight) is there much reason to upgrade?

That said I was thinking of getting my mum a kindle for Christmas, but someone above reminded me it's actually got some pretty big downsides - ebooks are often MORE expensive than the paper versions, which is ludicrous, and you can't borrow or lend them easily. So maybe not. Also she's only just got used to using 'the Google' (firefox) rather than 'the internet' (AOL) so introducing more tech to her life at this point might just be cruel...

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a friend of mine wants to get an e-reader for his wife... the thing that got him was the amount of stuff and zingyness that the kindle fire could do, compared to the kindle, for not a lot more... the perceived value of a 7" tablet is huge compared to the equivalent e-ink device... no wonder traditional ereadres are getting a beating...

but once down to brass tacks, the e-ink is a much superior device for the task of reading books... so he his getting the standard kindle...

I have a couple of tablets and an old Sony e-reader, I can count the number of books ive read to completion on the tablet on less than one finger, the e reader on otherhand, dozens....

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Plus, we're not an infinite pool...

The market's gotta saturate at some point anyway: once I've bought a e-reader I'm happy with, and invested in building a library in a particular file format, I'm not about to buy another one a year later just 'cos it's got a fancier screen. I'm sorted indefinitely.

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Re: Plus, we're not an infinite pool...

Exactly. We've all got one at home, all my relatives who want an e-reader have one. The next time I buy one will be when my current one breaks. My two year old kindle keyboard does the job, so why do I need a different one?

p.s. I guess the price of ebooks might be a deal breaker for some but there is plenty of decent quality out of copyright to be had, plus the various sales at amazon are worth checking out. I'm not short of stuff to read! What I don't get is the attitude that some seem to have that owning an ereader means you don't read the dead tree versions. I'm still buying "proper" books as well as ebooks. Tablets, dead tree and ereader all have their place. The important bit is the book not the delivery method!

To support something someone else said though, for me reading on a tablet is not as easy as reading the same book on an ereader. There are some situations where the tablet app was superior -earlier this year I had to search a book for a night class assignment. I thought the tablet search interface was much easier than for the same book on kindle. ...but I've not found it comfortable to read a whole book on the tablet kindle app.

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I have a kindle keyboard 3G (Don't really use the 3G).

I would have bought a paperwhite if it had physical page turn buttons. (And buttons enough to use it without touching the screen.)

As it stands I will probably use the kindle I have until it breaks and then get the cheapest one.

The only thing I wouldn't like to be without is the kindle 3G.

(I have 3 smartphones and 2 tablets but I could do without them.)

If you need to read a large amount of pdf's then it is probably better to have a tablet.

For sshing to servers anything is better than a tablet. (Android one anyway - the keymap is as far as I can see fundamentally broken. The best you can get is using the back / escape key to do meta - something is really screwy with alt.). A netbook / Cheap ultra-portable would be far better to do this sort of thing.

My tablet does almost nothing better than a 2 screen desktop. (Tapatalk better than junk web forums and the fact that it has push notifications and can be left on all the time that is all).

(Be even worse if I had to get all the accessories at Apple prices. (I have pretty much all the Xoom official accessories cost about £50 total (BT keyboard / BT mouse / Both Cases / Extra ac adapter / Dock).

In quite a few different ways even Palm OS was more suitable for what it did than modern stuff.

I always think it is best to have something that does one thing well. (Standard old school UNIX philosophy - broken by modern Linux).

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?

"I always think it is best to have something that does one thing well. (Standard old school UNIX philosophy - broken by modern Linux)."

It's meant to be a program does one thing well. The computer is supposed to have more than one program installed for precisely that reason; or it wouldn't be any use as a general purpose computer...

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No surprise

People are starting to realise that e-ink isn't actually that great compared to a modern LCD screen, especially if you are not doing most of your reading in direct sunlight.

Generally, the massive amount of functionality that a tablet provides compared to a single purpose device like an e-ink Kindle more than makes up for those rare times when then tablet isn't practical for reading on.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No surprise

Hmm I see your point but I don't think that's always the case. My ereader has its place. It fits in my coat pocket, it is much cheaper than my tablet, and smaller. I can be pretty confident that it has enough charge to last me a week or so. Also I don,t feel nervous reading my ereader on the tube.I wouldn't like to do the same with my tablet. Personally I find it much easier on my eyes to read a book on my ereader. An ereader is a specific tool to do a specific job. But then maybe that's me as I use an old candy bar dumb phone for making calls, and have an ancient ipod for music.

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Stop

Re: No surprise

Apart from only having to charge it every month or so. Mine been sat in the bag for a couple fo weeks. Still plenty of battery

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No surprise

Is the battery life really a bit deal for 99% of buyers when all you have to do is charge an iPad every 9-10 hours and the choice is either a slightly cheaper device that just does books or a highly capable device that does pretty much everything - and ebooks. I actually like colour - partly for kids books but I prefer reading ebooks on an iPad (mini) than a dedicated Kindle (especially in bed as it does not keep a backlight - yes I know they know offer one that fixes that).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No surprise

For every person that needs to read a book in sunlight (where e-ink may be better) there are probably more than read in low light / bed etc. so benefit from a backlight LCD.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No surprise

I'm not sure I agree at all. My Kindle is far far nicer to read on, in all lighting conditions than either my Nexus 7 or my Retina iPad. I can read on the tablets, sure, but will always choose the kindle when it's available. It's far easier on the eyes, it had ludicrous battery life. It requires less faff. It does one thing, and does it properly.

My partner's sister, who has family iPads and so forth was completely stunned when she saw my Kindle, for example- a surprising people outside of my little bubble turn out not even to have seen one in the flesh. I can't judge by the fact that the commuter train in the mornings is a sea of Kindles, though it is interesting that Kindle users seem to straddle the gender gap in a way that flashier tablet options don't.

I don't know, I suspect that your assertion regarding what people "are starting to realise" is more a reflection of your pet hates, rather than anything about the user-base.

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Linux

Re: No surprise

"Is the battery life really a bit deal for 99% of buyers..."

Err, yeah. Being a slave to the power socket with a tablet is far less fun than having a thing that just works for months at a time. You pick it up, press the button and start reading, even if you forgot about it for weeks.

I also find e-ink to be far kinder to my eyes than backlit displays.

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Re: No surprise

Hmm, my experience exactly opposite of yours. E-ink is vastly superior to the LCD screen, "modern" or otherwise. Don't dismiss the sunlight (or bright indoor lighting) aspect out-of-hand.

Plus, as has been mentioned before, the device's ability to hold a charge for weeks is a significant plus.

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Facepalm

Totally conflicted on this one

My latest e-reader (Sony TSR-1, which I loved but it just couldn't survive being the cushion when I sat down) gave up the ghost and now I have to replace it. Played with a Nexus 7 in the shop the other day and it's a *really* nice shiny thing. But - I like reading outdoors as well. And the phone can show movies but it's really limiting for web browsing (especially with my aging eyes). I like the idea that I only have to charge it up every few weeks - but I habitually carry an external power source for the phone anyway - so that is easily capable of charging up a tablet.

SWMBO will throw a fit if I get both and I've been digital for so long now that a vital part of my reference material mandates some form of reader.

Argh.

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Anonymous Coward

I recon Amazon will lose a ton of Kindle (basic b/w readers) sales - some may buy the colour Kindles but frankly why when the Kindle app runs on Android and iOS devices and those tablets are typically otherwise far superior.

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Linux

I think they may be fine with that

As I'm pretty sure the Phat Profitz are in the books anyway.

No physical distribution, no printing costs, still more expensive than a paperback? Check. No hardware costs either? Pure profit for amazon.

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Single Function

Apart from the amazingly long battery life the reason I like my Kindle (or eBook reader) is that I can't surf the web, or check a quick email on it. That way I don't get distracted from reading.

For holidaying (i.e. when I don't want to take my laptop/tablet because its a holiday) my Kindle is great. More convenient than paper books.

Only downside of eBooks are the high price and shockingly bad OCR/proof reading.

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It's always the same.

Dedicated devices are generally better at the thing they are bought for for but only those who spend a lot of time doing that truly appreciate them. The rest want a device which will do lots of things passably. See cameras, media players and phones -- a modern smart phone does all three in a compromised manner but most people put up with it for convenience.

Personally I have an netbook, and iPad and a Kindle and I know that the netbook and Kindle will be going on holiday with me -- despite the iPad supposedly being able to do the job of both. I'm sure as many people will understand why as don't.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's always the same.

"Dedicated devices are generally better at the thing they are bought for for but only those who spend a lot of time doing that truly appreciate them."

Nicely expressed. I am getting a little too obsessive about things that do one thing and do it well- the opposite of the "Archos effect", weird inexpensive machines that do a ton of things really badly.

Yes, I own and regularly use a Kindle, and appreciate the hell out of it. I also like my Leica rangefinder, a device so complete devoid of "features" that it's hilarious. However, it's reliable, produces stellar results, and is a joy to use as you get on with doing the job, rather than trying to disable goat recognition mode and retract the thing for taking boy scouts out of horses' hooves.

However, a lot of people do fall for the "Archos effect", looking at a gadget, and saying "gee willikers, it's an X and a Y and a Z, yet costs less than any of those- it must be amazing". Be careful when you suspend your critical faculties due to enthusiasm; sometimes it's better to choose the right tool for the job.

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Apples and oranges

Tablets don't replace eReaders, or laptops. They are extra, a new niche. The fact that certain tablets cost a fortune means that people can't just buy everything, so they compromise, maybe decide that a tablet is a better use of their limited budget than a dedicated eReader that month. But that doesn't mean they have decided that a tablet is better for reading than an eReader

And anyone who suggests that LCD screens are OK for reading compared to e-ink don't read as much as they think they do.

eReaders are good on the eyes, and that's it really. Everything else (including the battery life) is just a great bonus IMO

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Re: Apples and oranges

By "and that's it really", I mean "argument over" and not "that's all they're good for" :-S

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Re: Apples and oranges

I think most people are still analogue but the move to digital is not far. Devices need to be even more transportable and disposable to really catch on. Then I think there will be a fairly abrupt change. The plastic screens and electronic will drive robust, cheap and replaceable devices. Convergence with multimedia devices may or not may happen. We may move to buying "plastic books" which, while thoroughly digital, are designed for limited use and to be passed on.

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Outliers

This year I bought my wife a Kindle for an anniversary present, then a Nexus 7 when they came out. The tablet practically rusts from lack from use, while the Kindle gets hours of use every day. My own experience is not quite that extreme, but I definitely do much more reading on my Kindle than on my Nexus 7. Sufficiently so that I gave my Kindle keyboard away and got a Paperwhite last month. I agree that if money is really tight, buying the mutlifunction device makes sense, but e-ink is still vastly superior for reading. E-readers may end up being niche products, but since the niche in question is "avid readers", I don't think their financial viability is threatened.

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