Sales of e-reader devices are falling rapidly.
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 with ebook readers and in particular, Kindle sales?
First, in a report on The Demographics of Device Ownership in the US, Pew Research offers the following summary of reading device ownership.
The 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 Statista shows the decline of ereader 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 per cent of all e-reader shipments worldwide.
One of the main problems is that 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 2nd gen Kindle is better, as it came with an audio connector, which was removed from later models.
Waterstones decided to stop Kindle sales. Managing director James Daunt says: ‘Sales continue to be pitiful so we are taking the display space back.’
If sales 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.
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.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) accepts almost any font size in a Word document to be published as Kindle ebooks. But titles and chapter headings of 24pt or more will look positively huge on a smartphone screen and distract badly from readability.
In the past, checking a new ebook on a Kindle or iPad using a reading app such as the Kindle App or iBooks was sufficient to be sure that the formatting was all in order.
Now, though, with the change in the reading market and how people read books, 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 Statista, here is its 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.
And then, along comes the audiobook
Another nail in the coffin of the sales of Kindle e-readers, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo and Onyx Boox devices is the growing popularity of audiobooks.
This is no surprise because the fact fits with the logic that device buyers see no reason to buy specialised devices when one will do most tasks. Even if the battery life is not as good as a dedicated e-reader.
In most cases, it is the smartphone that is leading the way. This is clearly the case with audiobooks as the graph below from Statista shows.
While print books are still leading the way, it is well worth noting that both print book and ebook consumption has remained flat over recent years. In fact, there has been a slight decline in ebook reading, contrary to earlier economic forecasts.
However, these statistics may not take Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription reading into account.
But audiobook consumption is notable because it is the one book format that is rising steadily. Currently, one in five US readers listens to audiobooks. The trend started in 2015 and there seems no reason why it will not continue to grow.
As with all things publishing, 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.
Check and make the necessary formatting changes to your ebooks to ensure they are reader-friendly on smartphones.
You can check how your ebooks will look on smartphones and tablets before you publish to make sure your readers get a quality small format read.
Doing this check is especially important if you have included images in your ebook.
Are all your ebooks smartphone ready?
If they are, your next consideration should be audiobooks.
Producing high-quality audio is obviously not as easy as publishing an ebook. But to get you thinking, you can read more information about how to publish an audiobook here.
It is no surprise that the dedicated e-reading device is dying. Sure, there are still many readers who love their Amazon Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Oasis and the longer battery life. But the numbers of new e-reader buyers are declining.
Smartphones are and will continue to be the most used device for reading ebooks and listening to audiobooks. A two in one killer for dedicated devices.
For self-publishing authors, the future is very clear. Publish in all three formats to give your books the best chance of being read. Give readers the choice of versions, so they can buy your book in the format they prefer.
I started my working life as a lithographer and spent over 30 years in the printing and publishing business.
Originally from Australia, I moved to Switzerland 20 years ago. My days are spent teaching English, writing and wrestling with technology while enjoying my glorious view of Lake Geneva and the Alps.
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