The dedicated e-reader: already toast

In this year's Reading the Future, The Bookseller's third annual survey of UK consumer reading habits, we had an increased focus on digital.

There were some sober findings for digi-nistas. Only 26% of respondents had ever heard of a Kindle, and only 41% knew what a Sony Reader was. The iPad fared much better—60% had heard of it—incredible given that the bulk of the survey was done in March and that the UK launch isn't until Friday, perhaps revealing more about the media's slavish devotion to Apple than anything else (think of Pravda covering the Kremlin during the Cold War, with Steve Jobs a skinnier Krushchev banging his shoe at the next MacWorld screaming, 'We will bury you!').

More worrying, is that a combined 70% said they would 'definitely not' (32.3%) or were 'unlikely' to (36.8%) to buy any sort of e-reader in the coming year. Our survey, it should be noted, was conducted online and repsondents had to be book readers. So we're talking about bookish folk, and not the Luddite end of the market.

The bottom line is that e-readers are still not appealing to the vast majority of the reading public. And never mind appealing, they have never heard of the freaking things. The things they have heard of are machines most people use every day: the Blackberry (73%), the iPhone (73%), even the Nintendo DS (74%). It should not go unnoticed that all these devices' primary function is not book reading. And the driver for the iPad for most customers, as sexy and appealing it is for books, will not be because of the iBookstore, it is its multi-functionality.

The only way forward I can see for a dedicated e-reader is to drive price down. After Friday, who would want to buy an e-reader (particularly a monochrome one), when you can get an iPad for around the same ball-park price-wise, and it will play video, surf the web etc? And our survey backs that up. The main driver for customers who said they could be persuaded to buy an e-book was that if it 'cost less than £100.' Over to you, Amazon and Sony.


iPad, Androids, Kindles

Kindles were a great idea when they were first released. The problem is, the iPad came out not long after and made the Kindle almost obsolete. There are now so many other options rather than the Kindle that will give you a better bang for your buck. iPad-like devices with the Android system are popping up everywhere. Apple and Android app development are both only improving from here on out. The Kindle isn't going to last much longer, unfortunately.

Just another step on the path...

As fascinating as this debate is (and I agree with many comments) we should accept that e-readers are a fad, from the same digital foundry as the laserdisc, WAP, minidisc, etc. It's one of humanity's many failings - we confuse our ability to produce something with am imagined need for such a device.

As several have already commented, dedicated devices have a short lifespan. A typical student in 5 years will carry a pocket device that gives them instant access to all the reference material they could ever want, with the capability to remotely print excerpts if they wish. Your typical "book reader" will continue to buy and read real, actual, paper books. Magazines and newspapers (disposable media) will be transformed by these digital marvels. Books will not.

I think one key aspect is the age split variations. In my experience today's children love books until they hit double figures, then their attention is hijacked by small screen pastimes. When they mature they may return to books, but in the menatime we have a floating digi-generation who aren't interested in e-readers, quite simply because they're just not interested in books.

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Watch kids

Maybe the best way to predict is to watch the behaviours of children/YA with these devices? I would guess their adoption of single-purpose ‘digink’ readers will be very low compared to iPhones, iPads,  and similar up-and coming devices which, weight for weight, do so much more and are much cooler to own, switching functions at will from games to books to music and movies. Many of these will find the iPad a good subsitute for a laptop (with remote keyboard and case/stand for heavy users when not on the move). Who except a dedicated heavy reader wants to lug around a single purpose device?

E-Readers Toast?

As a bookseller online and a publisher of various e-books for consumption on the Kindle and other mobile devices, the one barrier I have found to being able to make my books available is not DRM but the requirement on the part of online retailers like Barnes & Noble to purchase an ISBN for every book presented. I make my books DRM free because it can be broken down anyway by any skillful hacker, and the idea of "proprietaty software" with regards to books makes me cringe. I remember when in 2009 a teenager sued Amazon for removing "1984" from its vast library of ebooks, and the most important thing to literary freedom is freedom of access. If people cannot export the books they bought to another mobile device (and suppose the service goes out of business?), then they are better off with a print book instead, and forego the luxury of reading on a device. I have embraced the digital age with eagerness, but I see that both the bottom line and stiff competition for readers and especially buyers of the devices are driving this market.

Already Toast

As a lecturer who teaches, as one of my subjects, Publishing at MA level I am in daily contact with a potential target audience for these digital devices, indeed as a publishing course we have to include this medium in the course delivery, and the feedback from my students does not make encouraging reading for any sales director associated with the products currently offered. Most show a complete disinterest which, when provoked by being asked to trial the e-readers quickly turns to a definite negative stance regarding possibly purchasing and using them long term. The iPad will succeed, I think, where Sony/Kindle et al are failing but not strictly as an alternative to the printed book or other digital offerings, it will succeed as a result of Apple's design and marketing skills therefore providing the "must have " gadget of the moment. Thereafter it will be used as yet another communication and entertainment machine that we can add to our already burgeoning arsenal of such things and Apple's marketing gurus can quietly drop the "educative" angle as a sales pitch.

E Readers

My iPhone has been a real eye-opener. Using a free book app I am catching up on many old sci-fi stories from the past. I am amazed how it suits me for a few minutes in the bath or before bed. Importantly the multifunctionality is what counts - no need for dedicated Kindle or whatever. It's just there in your pocket. Having said that, I have become a fan of the iPad too as it serves as a very good sub-laptop. As for the publishing side of things, for magazines and children's illustrated books there's nothing to beat it. David Jefferis CEO Buzz Books

Define "toast"

Dedicated eReaders will lose some market share to multi purpose devices like the iPad, especially as those devices get better at replacing netbooks and laptops. But the fact that most people in the UK haven't heard of the Kindle is mostly because until recently they couldn't buy one.  Sony has been around longer; hence the higher recognition factor.  For voracious readers who don't like reading on an LCD screen, dedicated e-ink devices still have a place. And since you can read Kindle and Barnes & Noble ebooks on other devices (like phones and iPads)  and sync up where you are in the book, people may end up reading on multiple digital platforms.




mobile phones

When people are out and about they will want to read from their phones because they already have them with them, right there, in their back pockets. I'm sure that the market for e-readers will grow more than this report suggests but there is a limit to the amount of gear that people want to carry around. 

Sophia Bartleet, Editorial Director, Ether Books

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