There has been a lot of conversation recently around the future of digital reading, especially in light of the iPad's debut. Some have speculated that tablets are going to "kill" eReaders, despite predictions from Forrester that eReader sales will double iPad sales for 2010. While I don't think this new tablet market will "kill" anything, I want to start by saying that it's fantastic to see consumers excited about a multi-functional device; in the end, these types of devices will spur consumption of digital content like books, magazines and periodicals. Tablets will accelerate reading digitally and expand the market, which will benefit everyone. But at the end of the day it's very unlikely that any new tablet will replace dedicated, reading devices.
Those interested in an eReader and those interested in a tablet are relatively different audiences. A recent PriceGrabber.com study found that only one in ten consumers planning to buy an iPad intend to use it primarily as an eReader. Multi-purpose devices are simply not the same as dedicated, reading devices that book lovers have grown to love. Sure there will be reading on this new tablet - I've said leading up to and through its introduction that despite being a multi-function device it will accelerate the shift from analog to digital reading. However, it won't be the same type of long-form reading experience millions of book lovers enjoy every day with an ePaper-based, dedicated reading device. Yes, it may be really good for short form reading -- newspapers, email even a book here and there, but that's only in-between using the device for all the other things it can do.
eReader owners are a different crowd. They're book aficionados, just as digital camera owners are photo aficionados. As I've mentioned before, as more and more cell phones integrated sophisticated imaging functionality, there was a call for the death of point and shoot cameras. This death never happened. In fact, picture taking only grew as photo lovers increased their demand for point and shoot digital cameras, DSLRs and other devices that include digital imaging. The same can be said for book lovers -- they read lots of books and are interested in digital devices that enhance their reading experience. Our research shows that Reader owners in particular read more than three books a month on average. They're most concerned with being able to easily download the book they want and the ease of reading on the device. Form factor is also a critical issue; this audience enjoys the "pocket-ability" of an immersive reading device - it needs to be lightweight, easy to carry, and appealing to curl up with. Other book enhancements are important too - such as touchscreen dictionaries, freehand highlighting and the ability to read with one hand - but these cannot come at the expense of size, screen and portability. They also tell us that they read to escape for awhile and with a Reader, the technology melts away as they become engrossed in a good read without the intrusion of email, etc.
This immersive reading audience alone is a big market. Although digital book sales make up less than three percent of total book sales today; analysts predict strong growth over the next several years. According to new estimates from the Association of American Publishers eBook sales were up more than 176 percent for 2009, reaching $313 million and outperforming audio book sales for the first time. Goldman Sachs Group forecasts that overall U.S. book sales will rise 5.8 percent through 2015 on the strength of fourfold growth in eBook sales. Meanwhile, Forrester predicts that dedicated reading device sales will double in 2010.
These numbers illustrate why this audience is so deserving of choice - both for content and devices. There will be room in the market for devices that add color and extensive web access, but there will also be a consistent market for immersive reading devices that are light-weight, portable and provide the comfort of reflective display technology. There is a market for individuals who want their digital reading device for just "reading."