Indie News Beat: Goodbye to eReaders?

Every journalist has to get an angle on the story, so the reader can relate to the subject and feel informed. But sometimes, the real story is not the one being written about.

Let me explain.

In this article on The Guardian, we have a fairly straightforward but misleading angle. The title of the story, ‘Print book sales rise hailed as a sign of a fight back in a digital world’, assumes that there is a battle going on, and that one type of book is bad, and another type of book is good. As this is The Guardian, there are no prizes for guessing which are the bad books. The story is misleading because it is based on seasonal figures: in a rare statistical turnaround, the UK Christmas sales rush saw many more print books sold than e-books, likely to be given as gifts, and the biggest sellers were TV tie-ins specific to the UK market.

As reported, this didn’t stop one mainstream author taking to Twitter to claim, “Real books fighting back!” as though e-books are not real books, with the subsequent unspoken implication that the e-book explosion has been a freak of nature that will shortly be corrected. A quick glance at the comments underneath the article reveals a range of opinions, including no shortage of Kindle-haters who clearly wish that the e-book had never been invented.

To say that this angle on the story represents the last groan of a dying dinosaur would be putting it mildly. Let the ‘establishment’ have their little laughs in the pages of The Guardian if they must, but this seasonal sales blip in one territory cannot be taken as evidence that the trend of growing e-book sales and falling p-book sales has been bucked (the term ‘p-book’ is a little mainstream in-joke for printed books, ho, ho, ho). More relevant to those of us who live in the twenty-first century, however, is this quote tucked away near the end of the article: “Tablets will become so cheap, the screens will get better, battery life will improve significantly and then e-readers will only be kept alive for sentimental reasons.”

This is the real story for anyone looking for clues to the future of publishing. The e-reader already appears to be on the way out, superseded by the growing tablet market. As these devices begin to merge (to have the generic name of ‘slate’, as I predict in my futuristic courtroom thriller Class Action*), Independent Authors will not only have to write and produce the best product they can, but will also have to take account of Angry Birds and everything else a tablet device can offer.

It seems to me that the problem here is that the e-reader has not been around long enough as a standalone device. In large part, the self-publishing explosion was caused by the introduction of the Kindle. Although introduced at the end of 2007, it really took off in 2010, shifting over a million units with a 59% market share of all e-reading devices. But for authors, this was a captive audience because the consumer could only use the device for reading. Now, less than three years later, consumers are forecast to ditch their e-reading devices in favour of tablets that can do almost anything their other mobile devices can do.

At the same time, the story in The Guardian shows that too many people still regard e-reading as something they wouldn’t dirty their hands with. While it is safe to assume that current trends will not change, and that e-book sales will continue to outstrip print book sales, is it possible that the forthcoming demise of the dedicated e-reading device could herald a narrowing of opportunity for the Independent Author? Once all consumers have the full range of digital entertainment on their tablets, will they still read as many books?

*Editor’s note: Indies Unlimited apologises unreservedly for this shameless plug for Mr James’s book. The responsible copy editor who should have deleted this cheeky insert has been thrown to the Angry Birds.

Author: Chris James

Chris James is an English author who lives in Warsaw, Poland, with his wife and three children. He has published three full-length science fiction novels and is currently writing a series of short story volumes inspired by characters in songs from the rock band Genesis. For more information, please visit his website or Amazon author page.

33 thoughts on “Indie News Beat: Goodbye to eReaders?”

  1. I’ve mentioned several times that reports on ebook industry in print media are suspect, if not downright disinformational. Almost any print writer who still has a job loathes digital–probably has nightmares of getting laid off and having to blog. It threatens their livelihoods, but also their sense of being special and empowered.

    However, I do think the dedicated ereader is a fad that will pass, and have said so for years, even as the Kindle first emerged. And this last year has shown that starting to happen. But it’s not that people will flock back to pulp products. They will be reading on phones and tablets.
    Five years ago I said that the ideal is a cell phone with wider screen, maybe the size of a checkbook. Pocketable, but showing full page width. And gives you a reader that is also email, phone, camera, clock, timer, flashlight, personal vibrator and probably 27 ways to kill.
    And we’re starting to see it: the new tablets and phones morophing towards each other.
    And guess what–the more that happens, the more people will buy ebooks. You don’t need an ereader, anymore and can read your porn in meetings at work.

    1. Yup. I hardly ever read print anymore, but I haven’t used my Kindle in ages (giving it to my six year old daughter, actually – she’s just starting to read long form fiction).

      I have my iPad to write on and read the occasional book on (for some reason I digest some nonfiction better on that device), and my cell phone for most of my “for fun” reading. And better believe when my cell provider gives me my next discount on a new phone in a few months that I’ll be buying one of the bigger screen devices – my DroidX2 has a decent screen, but I want one with just a little more real estate.

    2. Cannot imagine reading a book on my cell although I am aware that many people are doing just that. I’ve only recently adapted to using eReading devices. In fact, I prefer these devices, over printed (pulp) books.I don’t have room on my physical book-shelves for more paperbacks or hardbacks.

      BTW, Linton, interesting newly coined word,”disinformational”!

      1. Nice discussion, guys. As an aside, Marcia, most e-reading in Asia and China takes place on mobile phones (I read somewhere, can’t find it now :))

  2. Kindle better not become obselete, I’ve only just got mine, but I’ve got enough books on it to keep me going for a long time luckily. To be honest, there will always be newer, *better’ devices but I think if you are a person who likes to read, you can have a flock of angry birds, mine craft or any other type of game but when you want to read, you will read. Plain and simple. I hope this is the case anyhow. People have always loved to read no matter what else is available and I can’t really see how that could ever change no matter by what device you choose. Great post Chris as always, thought provoking. 🙂

    1. Kindle will probably avoid becoming obsolete by becoming free, or at least a lot cheaper. With some companies now selling eink readers for $13 (in Germany), I think we’re reaching the point where Amazon will drop prices down to VERY low levels this year, and maybe give one of their cheaper devices for free with Prime membership.

  3. Good post, Chris. You’re right that phones and tablets will usurp e-readers for most things. This morning on my way to work, I couldn’t get a copy of my favorite free newspaper, so I pulled out my phone and began to read the book I’ve been reading on my Kindle. I had the Kindle with me, but it was packed away in my backpack and the phone was in my pocket. Convenient!

    And btw, Lin is right, too. Newspapers thought radio would be a flash in the pan. 😉 By the same token, p-books aren’t going to go away; some things are just more conveniently handled with a printout in front of you.

    1. Thank you, Lynne – I suppose I’m showing my age but it might have been a little easier if the e-reader had had a chance just to be around longer as an exclusively reading device *sigh*

  4. It just goes to show that with the right angle, you can make statistics support any hypothesis you choose. As you say, it is the dying gasp of the dinosaurs. I see a long-lasting place for both paper and e-books in the future. We ignore either at our peril.

    1. I agree, and yes, the way the article used such specific stats to try to claim something which obviously isn’t true really got me excited (and not in a good way)

  5. The trouble is ereaders are smaller than some tablets and much more portable. Admittedly you can read books on your phone, but until battery life is improved (on both the phone and tablet) and you can read it in sunlight, the ereader will I think go on for a while. At the moment, I want to be able to use my phone as…wait for it, this is revolutionary…a phone. So, if I’ve beaten the battery over the head by reading a book, I may not have been able to make an all-important phone call, or worse, someone might not be able to contact me urgently. Yes, it’s wonderful to have an all singing and dancing, all bells and whistles, pocket-sized device, but if it breaks, you have nothing. Just not worth the hassle. I really really hope the ereader goes on.

    1. Reading in the sun is just a matter of what screen is used. There’s no real reason why phones can’t have ink screens and better battery life. That’s part of that evoilution/hybrid thing that’s happening.

    2. You still *call* people, Cathy? How very 20th century…. 😉

      (Disclaimer: I answer phones all day at work, and my kids would mostly rather text than call. I’m to the point where I consider a ringing phone a nuisance. But that’s just me….)

  6. I love my Kobo ereader – the weight, the convenience of it – but I still buy and read print books as well. Can’t we all just get along? Why do we go crazy over the formats instead of the actual texts?

    1. Thanks for commenting, L.E. I’m sure once the dust settles, all formats will rub along together, but in these exciting times of change and innovation, the media will always jump on any evidence of the pendulum swinging one way or the other – even if they have ot make it up!

  7. I’ll give up my Kindle (or other eInk reader) when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. I sometimes (although rarely) read on my phone for short periods when I’m caught with dead time I didn’t anticipate and will read on my tablet if it is a book with color photos or illustrations, but reading for longer than a short period of time on either doesn’t happen. Neither one compares favorably to my Kindle for reading. Now, a color-capable eink tablet, that’s another story. I could live with that and I think they’re coming eventually.

    1. I had to replace my Kindle keyboard with the Touch and that was just a couple of weeks before the Paperwhite came out. I thought the Touch was great until I saw the Paperwhite – I might just have to indulge myself. I agree about the color photos. I’ve reviewed a number of children’s books which, quite frankly, are a waste of time on the Kindle. Young children need colourful visuals.

      1. And I think that’s certainly where these tablets are going; it won’t be long and I’m sure they’ll be able to put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea!

      2. I think that they’re coming as well, but I’m going to be a stick in the mud and won’t get one until they invent a model that can put the kettle on and make a decent cup of tea as well!

  8. The technology will always shift, but I think Amazon will shift right along with it. They picked the ereader/ebook trend and ran with it, knowing that cost is always going to be a major consideration. And I think they’ll keep on picking the trends with $$ in mind, especially as Apple won’t be dropping the price on tablets. Ereaders are affordable, and cost is one of the factors driving the whole ebook revolution. Sure, there will always be BMW’s out there, but most of us drive Fords, or Toyotas. 🙂

    1. Thanks for commenting, acflory. Funnily enough, I drive a Ford, and it recently won an award for being “The Worst Designed Car on God’s Earth” 🙂

    2. This is actually one of the strong arguments for phones. What could be cheaper than reading on a device you already own?
      You keep an eye on Gizmodo and I think you’ll see what I mean–tablets and phones are growing toward each other… in size, price, and utility.
      The tablet itself is a hybrid between the PC and your Palm/Blackberry type device.
      It isn’t over yet.

  9. I did an article for Digital World a while back, mentioning that in Mexico (and much of the Third World) ereaders are almost unknown. Everybody uses tablets. Even though they are more expensive. But are they? Does a cheap tablet cost more than a PC and ereader? And camera? And maybe even phone, since many use Skype for calls?
    Only about 4% of Mexicans read novels. But that 4% is also the group that can afford to buy tablets. I just walked through a department store in Tijuana and they had several tablets on sale that aren’t much bigger than a Nook–and do a hell of a lot more.
    Much of the world is doing this in a very different way. I found out a lot of that when I published a book by a Mexican writer/artist. I was concentrating on Kindle, but it turned out none of his fans owned them. They bought ePubs and pdfs. They also bought print copies–at twice the price they sell on amazon.

  10. So, one question nobody seems to ask is: what do people in China and India read? There might be as many English readers in those two countries alone as there are in the United States. If not now, some day soon.

    1. Very good point, Lin. I think India especially is a market Indies should have their books in. They might use English as a second language, but it is a very common language there.

  11. Wonderful post and comments!
    I love my Kindle. 🙂
    I can’t read a blasted thing on my iPhone, beyond basic texts. (I know I can change the font.) It would be interesting to have more info on what is projected in India. A future post, perhaps?

Comments are closed.