E-Readers Face Extinction in an Age of Multi-Task Devices

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    The history of natural selection is built upon the dynamic of a species — one that perhaps was very successful at one point — being superseded by one that wins the battle for food and water and does a better job of evading enemies.

    That amateur overview of the natural selection is worth remembering when considering the e-reader and the tablet. Even when e-readers were roaming the landscape unopposed, there always was a chance that tablets would crowd them out of the food chain (OK, I’ll drop the analogy).

    When the e-reader was introduced, tablets existed as a small subgroup. The question was this: Would the public be more apt to accept a device that is focused on doing one thing extraordinarily well, or one that does many more things, but only pretty well? It seems that the multitalented widget is winning.

    Two studies discuss the decline of the e-reader. One paragraph of this IHS iSuppli press release should strike fear into the heart of people who have bet the farm on the e-reader:

    Shipments of ebook readers by year-end will fall to 14.9 million units, down a steep 36 percent from the 23.2 million units in 2011 that now appears to have been the peak of the ebook reader market. Another drastic 27 percent contraction will occur next year when ebook reader shipments decline to 10.9 million units. By 2016, the ebook reader space will amount to just 7.1 million units—equivalent to a loss of more than two-thirds of its peak volume in 2011.

    The release doesn’t mince words in explaining the situation and suggesting that it isn’t the only one-trick pony that may be facing the end:

    But the stunning rise and then blazing flameout of ebooks perfectly encapsulate what has become an axiomatic truth in the industry: Single-task devices like the ebook are being replaced without remorse in the lives of consumers by their multifunction equivalents, in this case by media tablets. And while other uni-tasking devices—like digital still cameras, GPS systems and MP3 players—also face similar pressures and battle dim prospects ahead, all have had a longer time in the sun than ebook readers, demonstrating even more painfully the depth of the ebook reader’s fall.

    iSuppli is not the only analyst group that is down on e-readers. IDC projections released in early December roughly echo iSuppli’s. The firm released projections in early December that forecast a drop in e-reader sales from 27.7 million in 2012 to 19.9 devices in 2013.

    One would expect a post at a site called Good E Reader to try to accentuate the positive about the future of e-readers. Editor in Chief Michael Kozlowski does a good job. While acknowledging the tough times the industry is in by quoting the iSuppli numbers, he said that lower prices and the emergence of color displays will keep the category viable. That, of course, remains to be seen, and at this point seems unlikely.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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