The E-Reader Device Is Dying A Rapid Death

Derek Haines
Jan 27, 2017 · 4 min read

Sales 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 offer 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.

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 choice 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.

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 should be given to better ebook formatting and especially 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.

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 better reading experience, no matter what device they use to read ebooks.

Want to discover more about Derek Haines? He writes regularly about publishing and writing on Just Publishing Advice and he is also the author of eighteen books … so far.

Derek Haines

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Factotum at Just Publishing Advice, serial blogger, teacher and author. I write a lot, which keeps me off the streets and out of trouble. Mostly harmless.