After a surge in sales for the past six years, sales for e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook are starting to slide steeply by some estimates. Analysts say they're quickly becoming niche devices.
Barnes & Noble reported on Thursday that sales for the Nook fell 13 percent this year for the nine-week holiday period as compared to last year's holiday season.
Market-researcher IDC recently estimated 2012 global e-reader shipments at 19.9 million units, down 28 percent from 27.7 million units in 2011. By contrast, IDC's 2012 tablet forecast is 122.3 million units, according to the Wall Street Journal.
IHS iSuppli comes up with different totals, but it sees a similar trend, according to a report released Thursday. It estimates that shipments of dedicated e-readers peaked in 2011 and predicts that 2012 shipments slid to 14.9 million units, down 36 percent from a year earlier. By 2015, it expects unit sales of dedicated e-readers to be just 7.8 million.
Capable of holding hundreds of books, magazines, and newspapers, e-readers were considered groundbreaking when they first came out and were decried by literary types who savored the nostalgia of hardcover books. When tablets like Amazon's Kindle Fire and Apple's iPad were created with far more functionality than traditional e-readers, from Internet browsing to gaming to snapping photos, they shut out their predecessors.
"E-readers will eventually become a niche product," Tom Mainelli, IDC's tablet research director, told The Journal.
Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester Research analyst, said e-readers simply can't keep up as technologies innovate.
"It's looking like e-readers were a device for a particular moment in time that, more rapidly than we or anyone else thought, has been replaced by a new technology," Ms. Rotman Epps told The Times.
Tablets have become cheaper, but e-readers are still the cheapest. Google's Nexus 7 tablet is $199. One of Amazon's Kindle Fire models is $159 model, which is $20 less than the most expensive Kindle e-reader and $40 more than the priciest Nook, accoding to The Journal. The iPad Mini, which came out before the holidays, is $329. The cheapest e-reader is the advertised version of the Kindle, which is $70.
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that tablet and e-reader sales are up. As of November, 25 percent of Americans own a tablet device like an iPad. A year ago only 10 percent of Americans owned one. Of more than 2,200 respondents surveyed October to November, 19 percent have an e-reader, which is up from 10 percent last year as well. Overall, the number of people who own either a tablet or an e-reader remains in the minority, but the percentage still rose in the past year, from 16 to 23 percent. Printed book reading declined from 72 to 67 percent.
Another reason why e-readers are starting to slide is because people who have bought them see no reason to buy another.
Julie Curtis, a substance-abuse counselor in Stow, Ohio, told The Journal she is devoted to her two-year-old Kindle.
"It works fine, I really have no reason to get a new one," she said. "If I did ever want to upgrade, it would probably be to a tablet, like the Kindle Fire."
Over the years, though, makers of e-readers have tried to give consumers reason to upgrade. Designs became sleeker, more reader-friendly, and pages turned faster. Makers also increased the storage size. Some devices even allow for reading in the dark.
"E-readers are dramatically better today than they were even two years ago," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis.
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