According to reports, Amazon controls 79% of the eBook market here in the UK. ‘When Apple announced the iPad with its iBookstore many people thought the inferior Kindle would be toast, but by letting people read Kindle books on any device, Amazon has preserved, and even arguably gained, marketshare.’ It is quite clear that many big companies see the eReader venture as a profitable one as there are many to choose from, even outside of Amazon, with Apple as ‘the second most-used e-book platform, with 9% of respondents saying it was their preferred choice’ and Google as the third most popular, being used by 8% of people.
However, since 2012 when eReader sales figures reached their peak of 40 million units worldwide, the numbers have begun to decline, last year only selling 20.2 million worldwide. So, what is the reason for this and would it be too far to think of eReaders as becoming redundant?
Why would you purchase an eReader?
One of the main selling points for Kindles and other eReaders is that they have a back lit, ‘glare-free screen’. This means that no matter where you are, what light you are in or how you are reading from your Kindle, you will always be able to do just that – read. Another aspect that many eReaders boast about is their lightweight feel and increased durability compared to tablets like the iPad, and let’s face it, we have all experienced or know many who have had to pay a huge fee to get their Apple device’s screen fixed. Another selling point is that eReaders also allow readers to store all their books in one device easily, usually without any annoying notifications popping up alerting you to your storage that is nearly full.
The newest release from Amazon, the Kindle Oasis, boasts that it ‘reads like the printed page’. But, it’s not the printed page, and with most of us used to smartphone, laptop and computer screens, why do we actually need this feature especially when, for a little more money, you could have a lot of components that are frankly, much better and anti-glare screen protectors are available for any device at a small fee.
Do you need an eReader?
Despite its shortcomings that seem to range over all the devices created by Apple, for example, software update issues, durability issues and charging problems, the Apple iPad sold over 58 million units worldwide in 2012 at the same time that eReaders reached their peak sales figures. Last year, in 2015, these numbers dropped, but only slightly with Apple still selling nearly 55 million iPads. These figures alone show that Apple has a much wider audience and is bringing digital print to a larger number of people even if that is not one of their main goals. The way we’re consuming books is constantly evolving and with a bigger screen, access to the internet and millions of apps and a camera are only some of the versatile aspects of an Apple iPad and many other tablets now available on the market. Despite Apple’s high price tags being common knowledge, there are many other tablets available if you are willing to shop around from the likes of Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Amazon who released a range of Kindle Fire devices. Darren Laws, CEO of UK Publisher, Caffeine Nights says that “Amazon’s next challenge, and that of the publishing industry, will be how to transition older readers to newer technology than eReaders. This may take some time or be a natural progression as the market matures, so dedicated eReaders may be around for a while yet.”
The introduction of the independent Kindle App available on tablets and smartphones have allowed consumers to completely bypass Kindle eReaders altogether. The app, which is free on the iOS App Store, Google Play Store and the Microsoft Store allow both Apple device users and android users to gain the same experience of reading without buying a Kindle, with the option to change the colours, brightness, text size and ability to highlight sections of text which you can return to later. In fact, most tablets have their own app already installed on their devices so it is not even necessary to download another app for your digital reading needs. For example, Apple devices come with iBooks, and android ones have Google Play Books ready and waiting for users to read from.
Hang on, do you even need a tablet?
The answer is no, not if you don’t want one. With smartphones being released all the time with bigger screens than ever before (like the Apple 6 and 7 plus, and Amazon Fire Phone), the inconvenience of reading on a screen that is small enough to fit in your pocket is becoming less of a concern to avid readers. Currently, an enormous 2.1 billion of us have a smartphone of our own all with the same apps included on a tablet that make reading easier for us. According to research, only 18% of older readers say that they can read a digital book just as well as on a tablet whilst this figure jumps to 32% for those aged between 18-34. With titles like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which remained a bestseller for weeks, all the way to The Three Little Pigs by Nosy Cow, the content existing on apps like iBooks is extremely wide and versatile even allowing users to download audiobooks. In fact, last year, an author named Iain Pears created an app that he claimed was actually necessary to understand his novel, Arcadia. An app that is free to purchase, claims that ‘the strands of story could be mixed or kept separate offered a liberation from those shackles known as genres’ showing that this innovative invention brings a greater and more interesting experience to readers who use smartphones.
Of course, there is always the option to completely ignore digital reading and stick to paperbacks, the tried and tested form which still remains its popularity. With no need for a power source and print being easier on the human eye, it has many qualities that other methods cannot produce. Dr. Gregory Leadbetter, Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University says, “I don’t foresee the extinction of print books with the rise of digital reading, especially if print publishers are sensible and don’t try to fight the convenience of digital technologies.”
Unfortunately, for authors, publishers and booksellers, whether their audiences are using an eReader or a tablet, a smartphone or a laptop, typing in a book title on a search engine will pop up thousands of results, some of which are sure to be what you are looking for. The Booksellers Association released a video earlier this year featuring Nic Bottomley, the owner of independent bookseller Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, located in Bath, ‘urging people not to illegally download creative content such as e-books, or risk destroying the industry’. However, whilst these illegal pdf, mobi and epub files are not always the easiest to read due to the reader not being able to change text size, font etc., a survey indicated that infringers ‘downloaded the works illegally because it is easy (60%), quick (48%) and free (44%)’, factors that are enough to tempt many.
The Future of eReaders
The future of eReaders is uncertain because the industry has already taken multiple routes to improving readers’ digital reading experience. Matt Graham, Technical Consultant at app developer Apadmi in London pointed out: “I think eReaders will maintain their popularity. Amazon has by no means killed the eReader, because its tablets and phones do not replicate any of the USPs of an eReader, namely very long battery life, the ability to read in bright light, and no eye strain when reading for prolonged periods.” In the two years after this statement, Amazon has begun developing their eReaders in a more sophisticated direction, shown by their newest release, the Kindle Oasis, and innovation has begun to close the gap between eReaders, tablets and smartphones with the release of the YotaPhone, the world’s first dual screen smartphone, with an e-ink screen featuring on the back and five days’ reading possible on a single charge bringing those USPs mentioned by Graham to the smartphone industry.
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