The E-Reader Device Is Dying A Rapid Death

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e-reader devices sales are fallingSales of e-reader devices are falling rapidly

E-reader devices such as Kindle, Nook and Kobo are all suffering from a rapid drop off in sales, yet readers are still buying and reading e-books.

So what is going on here?

First, in a report on The Demographics of Device Ownership in the US, Pew Research offers the following summary of e-reader device ownership.

Popularity of e-readers declines

Some 19% of adults report owning an e-reader – a handheld device such as a Kindle or Nook primarily used for reading e-books. This is a sizable drop from early 2014, when 32% of adults owned this type of device. Ownership of e-readers is somewhat more common among women (22%) than men (15%).

Data from Statisa shows the decline of e-reader sales in more detail:

Shipments of e-book readers worldwide from 2008 to 2016 (in million units)
This statistic shows the number of e-book reader shipments worldwide from 2008 to 2012 and also offers a forecast until 2016. In 2009, around 3.8 million e-readers were sold worldwide. In the United States, the revenue from e-books was 158 million U.S. dollars in 2008. In 2010, Amazon’s Kindle accounted for 62.8 percent of all e-reader shipments worldwide.

ereader sales decline

One of the main problems is that e-reader devices have failed to develop in any major technical form since their introduction in 2008.

If you own a Kindle from 2009, you will know that it is almost exactly the same as the current model. In fact, I believe my old Kindle is better, as it came with audio, which has been removed from the current model.

Recently, Waterstones decided to stop selling Kindles. Managing director James Daunt says: ‘Sales continue to be pitiful so we are taking the display space back.’

If sales of e-readers are in free fall, how are people reading ebooks?

Again from Pew, the data tells the story. Smartphones and tablets are the choices of ebook readers.

Cellphones near saturation levels for some groups

Fully 92% of American adults own a cellphone, which is similar to the 90% of the public who reported owning these mobile devices in 2014. Although cellphones are common today, the share of adults who own one has risen substantially since 2004, when 65% of Americans owned a mobile phone.

Close to half of all Americans own a tablet

The share of Americans who own a tablet computer has risen tenfold since 2010. Today, 45% of U.S. adults own a tablet – a substantial increase since Pew Research Center began measuring tablet ownership in 2010. Then, only 4% of adults in the U.S. were tablet owners. Ownership, however, is statistically the same as it was in 2014.

Pew ereader device ownership

If ebook readers are moving more and more towards reading ebooks on smartphones and tablets, what does this mean for self-publishing authors?

The most important consideration now is readability.

Reading on a smartphone using a reading app is not the same as on a dedicated e-reader or even a tablet.

With a much smaller screen area, thought must be given to far better ebook formatting and especially with regard to font sizes.

While KDP accepts almost any font size in a Word document to be published on Kindle, titles and chapter headings of 24pt or more will look positively huge on a smartphone screen and distract awfully from readability.

In the past, checking a new ebook on a Kindle or iPad using an app was sufficient to be sure that the formatting was all in order.

Now, though, with the change in the reading market, it will be essential to check any new ebook on a smartphone, before publication.

The e-reader may be dying, but this is certainly not true for ebooks.

Again from Statisa, here is their rosy outlook for ebook sales revenue.

Revenue from e-book sales in the United States from 2008 to 2018 (in billion U.S. dollars)
The timeline presents data on e-book sales revenue generated in the United States from 2008 to 2013 as well as a forecast until 2018. PwC expects the revenue will grow from 2.31 billion in 2011 to 8.69 billion in 2018.

ebook sales year on year

Check and make formatting changes to your ebooks

As with all things, change is the only constant.

If you are self-publishing ebooks, take care to accommodate your readers and give them a much better reading experience, no matter what device they use to read your ebooks.

You can check how your ebooks will look on smartphones and tablets before you publish to give your readers a better experience.

Doing this check is especially important if you have included images in your ebook.

Are all your ebooks smartphone ready?

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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

17 thoughts on “The E-Reader Device Is Dying A Rapid Death

  • In 2015 Amazon was set to pay self-published authors as little as $0.006 per page read.
    I’ve pulled all my 90 books out of this scam.
    One of my books has a 109,000 word count – New Times Roman font 12 no spacing, 312 pages.
    If all were read I would receive 312 x $0.006 = $1.87(2).
    A cash sale would (did) bring almost twice as much.
    Amazon is cashing in with their ‘free reads’ (for $9.99). Ebooks that the readers are not allowed to keep longer than a calender month.
    So, authors have not only a greedy and stingy, corrupt publisher to contend with, they have all these numb-nut readers who in my opinion are’t serious readers at all but Yo-yo’s with an identity problem looking to find themselves by obtaining as many titles as possible, — a well-read pleb.

    • At $0.006 per page, 99.5% of self-published authors are being overpaid. Self-published authors are often so full of themselves. They just can’t understand why people don’t flock to their books. Because they suck! You have no talent! If you were a real writer you wouldn’t worry at all about getting paid for your 109,000 words of unreadable crap. You’d worry about perfecting your craft until you had people who know good writing banging on your door to see what you’ve written..

      • As both an author and a reader, I find a lot of self-published authors who have excellent talent, and a lot of “established” authors who suck out loud. “Talent” has little to do with why someone gets published or not. It’s about a multitude of factors, many of which make no sense.

    • The “greedy, stingy and corrupt publisher” (BTW, Amazon is *not* the publisher of KDP works – you are) provided you with a “scam program’ which you are free to opt in or out of as you please, in order to make you ‘masterpieces’ available to readers who want quick, throw-away reads (you know, ‘beach reads’, ‘airport books’). If you think people will buy your book for $9.99 providing you with close to $7 of royalties, by all means, go ahead and pull out of KOLL program.

  • When apple crushed it’s reader on the IPad it killed my collection. No sign of them bringing it back; shows the downside of Apple specifically and the level or protectionism in the industry.

    • Yes, John. Apple is becoming quite adept at taking things away, but charging more for the loss of functionality. Removing USB ports from the new Macbook Pro is its latest take away, for a higher price.

    • Can you explain what you mean when you say “when Apple crushed its reader on the iPad and it killed my collection”? Neither has happened to me. I still use iBooks on my iPad and have complete access to my collection. One of us is missing something regarding your comment.

  • While there is a discussion to be had on whether or not most people need a dedicated book reading device, I hardly think that the eReader is going to be going anywhere. I think that the advent of the iPhone and peoples’ desire to upgrade every one or two years have given the market unrealistic expectations for sales. You see this with the doomsayers for tablets as well.

    There’s a part of the market that will always want an eReader, just like there’s part of the market that will always prefer print books. Unfortunately for Amazon, the Kindle is a pretty reliable device, as are other eReaders. Mine is between 3 to 4 years old and barring some sort of revolutionary upgrade, I probably won’t be upgrading it for a while. The same is pretty much true for everyone I know. Granted, this is all anecdotal, so take it for what it is. I just think that there will always be a market for a device whose only purpose is to read books on, that takes advantage of the eInk display.

    Though, now that I think about it, I am from a generation that grew up reading print, so perhaps as we go forward and more readers who grew up with a digital screen as their primary means of consuming text will think that the eInk just looks weird and are more comfortable with a tablet or phone display. Perhaps I will shake my stick at the sky and cry out against “kids these days”. Not there yet though.

    • I grew up reading print and prefer print and paradoxically, I can get an experience that is CLOSER to reading print on a digital screen vs. an ereader. A lot of the ebooks I find online are scans of print books, complete with the yellowing of an aged paperback that just wouldn’t be there on a greyscale kindle. I prefer that over eInk. To me, it just looks and feels more like a book than anything on a kindle, eInk or not.

    • I have found that e-readers as a whole are unreliable. I had a Nook reader, brand new, bought from the company. It lasted a year, and I replaced it when it died. The Nook reader that I replaced it with had a similar life span. The next e-reading device I bought was a small tablet. I installed a Barnes and Nobel reading app on it, and that lasted perhaps six months, before it began to malfunction.

      I had many, many books in my e-reader library. This was all very lovely, however, I could not sort those books out, in order to find one that I wanted to look at again, or to look up a certain author who had impressed me with her writing. I know a number of people, who a few years ago were very enthusiastic about their e-readers, and now insist that they will not read anything but hard and soft cover books. If my experience was like theirs, I can easily see why.

  • I’m a diehard print girl which makes me an anomaly in the ‘all things tech’ world. Very doubtful I’ll jump on the E-reader train any time soon. There’s no reading experience comparable to that print lends – the touch of paper!

    • You could wrap an e-reader in paper so you could still feel and smell the paper while you read!

  • Unfortunately the E-reader manufacturers did not build in an obsolete button with their products and as someone else has commented… they last for years.. Mine is 6 years old and still going strong. There are no viable or convincing upgrades so those who bought one are not going to buy another one soon. I get the new generation is moving to smartphones to read a book which is diabolical.. I have seen it and would not touch.. I don’t want a tablet either and certainly will stick with print and Kobo.. I do also think that the manufacturers are being lazy on the marketing front. There are many areas of the world that are opening up to the Internet gradually and this is where there will be a potential for growth as E-readers offer access to books on a much more economical scale. Not only that but with the cost of text books in schools and universities I am surprised that they have not opened up that stream of revenue.

  • I am blind and use the text to speech facility on my Kindle to read ebooks. You mention audio having been removed from new Kindles. By this do you mean that the text to speech facility is no longer available? If so this is a retrograde move by Amazon. I own 2 Kindles both of which have the text to speech facility, the last one is just over 2 years old. Kevin

  • When you have a monopoly (IE Amazon) you have no reason to innovate. So that means nobody has a reason to upgrade. With no reason to upgrade, only new readers are buying them and those who have had their current ones finally die.

    Personally, I have a Kindle Paperwhite, but am planning on buying a Kobo instead soon as I can. Probably will keep the Paperwhite for a few things, but the Kobo has been innovating by including water resistance, etc… (but not enough to force mass upgrades) and I’m tired of the Amazon monopoly. I do not like DRM either, so most books which have DRM have very little value to me. I won’t spend much more than $2 for a book with DRM. And I will do my best to rid myself of that DRM as well. Amazon does a terrible job in telling users which books have DRM and those that don’t. Kobo clearly labels theirs, while Nook doesn’t even mention it.

  • A decline in eReader sales doesn’t mean people don’t regularly use eInk eReaders. It’s just not a device you have to buy every year. And there are a lot of used ones you can buy cheaply that won’t show up in the statistics. Tablet sales have also been dropping steadily for three (or so) years. People realized they didn’t have to replace them every year.

  • The sales data you published does not indicate a “rapid death” of real e-book reading devices, but leveling (granted, with the plateau being at some 30% of the peak in 2011). The sky is not falling. Novelty has worn off, and only people who actually read a lot now buy Kindles and similar devices. But such people are not going away.
    As for technological improvements, there is not all that much to improve, after introducing frontlight and bringing back audio (to Oasis). Heck, you can even read it in a bathtub! Color would help, but, apparently, the early promise of Mirasol and Liquavista technologies have not panned out. If they did, this would increase the appeal of “color Kindles” only slightly – they would be better for reading magazines, comics, and textbooks, but would still not appeal to Twitter, Angry Birds, and Pokemon Go addicts.


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