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Thursday, 29 March 2018

Is the eReader Dead? The state of play in the digital book world.

Print books are doing well in the market at the moment, but then so too are eBooks (now that the days of crazy growth are over) and we live in a world where print and digital books can co-exist in peace. Bigger and better smartphones it seems are, at the moment, driving the eBook market but what of the dedicated eReader? Deadicated eInk readers, like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook are much less widespread than they used to be — and some claim, much less necessary.

Ten years ago, the Kindle was essentially the only game in town for eBooks. But now, it's just as easy to read on your computer, your tablet, your phone — or even all three, thanks to cross-compatible apps. In a world where convenience is king and delayed gratification is a dirty phrase, is there any room for a device that does only one thing and can't do that thing nearly as fast as the supercomputer in your pocket?

eReaders are catering to a diminishing audience. According to figures published by the US Library service more than one-quarter of U.S. adults didn't read a book in 2016; of the 74 percent who did, some read a single book "in part." The average U.S. reader finishes from four to 12 books per year, depending on whether you want to go with the median or the mean. The number of people who read, and the amount that they read, have both been dropping since the early '80s.

A few years ago, eReaders were more than just an exciting new innovation; they were also big business. For a brief period — 2011 to 2014, roughly — there was a real horse race among Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo in the e-reader market. Device sales soared, as did those for e-books. 

Then, something strange happened: eBook sales more or less leveled off, but eReaders took a huge dive - likely down to the fact that tablet devices gained in popularity.  In 2010, Amazon shipped 10.1 million Kindles — and the Kindle accounted for only 63 percent of e-readers shipped worldwide, meaning it had some legitimate competition. In 2011, Kindle shipments rocketed to 23.2 million. However, after a dramatic decline in 2012, and a steady decline ever since, Amazon shipped just 7.1 million Kindles in 2016.

So what's happening? After all, eBooks are more popular than ever.

Author Erin Kelly recently wrote in the Guardian Newspaper - My novel He Said/She Said, a psychological thriller about a couple who witness a rape, was a Sunday Times bestseller, but three months out of the trap, the hardback began the soft fall in sales that is the norm that period after publication. When the ebook edition began selling for 99p on Kindle for the summer, I’ll admit that I flinched, but – excluding a few days’ concession of my throne to Neil Gaiman – it topped the charts for six weeks and I was able to take my family on an overseas holiday for the first time. (On that trip, I took seven novels in a device that weighed less than a paperback, like something out of Star Trek.) I’d always had a core of loyal readers – but these numbers were something else.

So eBooks  are still hugely popular but the sales of eReaders themselves have slowed somewhat - maybe this is partly due to the fact that eReading devices are so durable, and tend to last. Once you've got an eReader you're not going to buy another if your current device is still serving you well. I for instance am on my third Kindle but I have seen no need to upgrade my paperwhite to the flashier Kindle Voyage of Oasis models. Now  I will upgrade to the new paperwhite when it comes out later this year but only because it will be waterproof, and I tend to read a lot in the bath. I've already ruined one paperwhite by dropping it in the bath. That's how I'm on my fourth Kindle.

My Kindle buying went like this:

1st Kindle I bought was the second generation with the keyboard.
Then I upgraded to the smaller model
Then I went for the Paperwhite because at the time the built in light was innovative.
Then after ruining my Paperwhite by dropping it in the bath, I simply bought another paperwhite.

Again it must be stressed that whilst eReader sales have dipped, it is not the case with eBooks and the graph left shows that eBooks sales have risen in the US market every year since 2008. The same is true in the UK.

Publisher Scott Pack recently said in the Independent  Newspaper - I believe the reader of 2020 or 2030 will have two libraries, print and digital, with different types of books and publications in each.While I have no qualms about trying out a debut author on eBook or loading up some holiday reading on to my Kindle, when it comes to my favourite authors I have to own the print edition, and I remain a sucker for a beautifully designed and printed book.

Likely the next big surge in eReader sales will come when the new Clearink technology becomes widespread - CLEARink is a new form of ePaper that will be released in 2018. It was properly unveiled at SID Display Week Los Angeles and it presents a better alternative to the eInk screen based readers. The prototype that is yet to go into production won the best in show, thus showing immense potential in the low-power, color display segment, unlike Amazon Liquavista. The promising ePaper display is set to be launched in two variants: The ‘video’ version is touted to bring video ability (with a refresh rate of over 30 Hz) to this segment which has never been done in the ePaper display as of yet. There is also the ‘bistable’ platform that will find application in displaying content for marketing and digital advertising (like digital signage etc.) and of course eReaders.the technology looks much better than eInk and actually can be colour rather than black - this will mean that illustrations in eBooks are going to look much better. Unlike eInk, CLEARink can overlay an LCD color layer in order to create images with 4,096 levels of color (that’s known as high color). That means it can do a lot more than just read books. It can also render the screen
animations and icons of an operating system.

So no the eReader is not dead..far from it. The addition of colour capabilities to dedicated eReaders is going to be a game changer.


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