Ereaders blowing away tablets

By on June 28th, 2011 in ebooks, technology

A couple of months ago, I commented in passing that dedicated ereaders like the Kindle and Nook were outselling tablet computers like the iPad. Several readers called me on that, but they were using old figures. And, when it comes to ereaders and the ebook phenomenon, “old” may mean months or even just weeks.

I just saw an article on CNN that makes clear the explosive growth in dedicated ereaders. Last winter, about 7% of US adults owned an iPad or other tablet computer, while only 6% owned a Kindle or other dedicated ereader. By May, those number had changed dramatically. Tablet ownership had increased from 7% to only 8%, while dedicated ereader ownership had doubled, from 6% to 12%. Apple has sold a total of about 25 million iPads since their introduction; it’s likely that 25 million dedicated ereaders will be purchased in 2011 alone.

And we’re still on the steep part of the curve. It’s entirely possible that twice that many ereaders will be purchased this year, depending on how Amazon and B&N price their ereaders for the Christmas season. Rumor has it that Amazon will begin giving away Kindles, possibly in time for Christmas, but more likely in early 2012.

The sea change foretold by this flood of ereaders is confirmed by book sales figures. Publishers’ Weekly, a bastion of traditional publishing, does everything possible to minimize the importance of ebooks, which are a deadly threat to their core audience. And yet, even PW has had to acknowledge the reality of ebook sales matching and now exceeding print book sales. In a recent article on J. K. Rowling going indie, PW as usual tried to trivialize the importance of this critical change, but even they were forced to admit that ebooks accounted for 50% of frontlist fiction sales. The reality is that if PW admits to 50%, the real figure is almost certainly much higher.

As dedicated ereaders continue to sell in huge numbers, book sales will inevitably continue their shift from print books to ebooks. What’s a traditional publisher to do? I am reminded of Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.


12 Comments and discussion on "Ereaders blowing away tablets"

  1. Ed Hahn says:


    I was packing for a week at the beach this morning, tossed the Kindle in the bag and then thought: should I bring some paper books?

    Generally I’d bring a couple dozen books, in a dedicated box.

    I think there are only couple of years left, at the outside, for traditional publishers.

  2. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    For fiction, I agree. I still don’t see children’s books ever doing well on ereaders, nor will non-fiction, other than purely text-based. That’s not something that technology can fix, at least any time soon. We may see Kindle-like devices with usable e-ink screens in the next year or two, but children’s books and non-fiction with lots of images or tables really need a much larger screen to be practical. And, even if someone develops a color full-size screen that folds to Kindle size, it wouldn’t do any good. A Kindle or Nook is already about the maximum size possible consonant with convenient reading. Perhaps the next generation of ereaders will be worn like glasses and allow readers to view a virtual full-size image.

  3. CowboySlim says:

    On the subject of non-fiction books, I just walked in with the latest non-ficiton non-ebook in my hand as picked up from my front stoop: Telephone Yellow Pages!
    And the pages were not yellow; they were like those on the White Pages book.

    Now, if that is not the greatest waste of resources of this century, then………….

  4. Dave Browning says:

    Is the Nook Color an inexpensive tablet or an expensive book reader?

  5. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Both. Everyone I’ve talked with that has a nook Color is happy with it. The problem is, it’s not e-ink, and a lot of people intensely dislike reading ebooks on backlit screens. My advice, if you want mainly to read ebooks, is to buy one of the new e-ink touchscreen nooks, although there’s also a lot to be said for the Kindle 3. Before you buy a nook Color, make sure to visit a B&N store and give it a good workout reading ebooks.

  6. Ralph says:

    I have been borrowing a Kobo for the last 2 weeks and I have read 1.5 novels so far. I like the experience pretty well. The Kobo is e-ink and the books I am reading are free epubs. I would buy epubs, but I don’t have any interest in DRMed books that Amazon and B&N want to sell. I normally buy 20 to 30 hardback fiction books a year and I don’t know what I’ll do for reading material if I can’t get new books or ebooks without DRM. Old books I have not read will hold me for a while. I suspect the DRM may be breakable, but the license would probably stop me. I won’t lie and say I accept a license that restricts me from shifting formats and I suspect Amazon and B&N would require an affirmative acceptance of such a license before a purchase.
    Good day,

  7. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Take a look at books by indie authors, many of whom realize that DRM is not their friend. I don’t know about the B&N store, but in the Kindle store any book that is listed as “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited” has no DRM.

    Also, both stores have a huge number of titles for free or very cheap, and I’m not talking just about public domain titles. There’s some good stuff out there for $0.99, some with DRM and some without.

    As to license, I’ve never seen any mention of that when I buy an ebook. I simply click the Buy button and download the book. Amazon sends me an email invoice.

  8. Marie Z. says:

    I have a Kobo and a Kindle. I absolutely love my e-reader for reading fiction, but I hate it for just about everything else…magazines, children’s books, poetry collections, textbooks, reference works, etc. I guess I can see e-readers killing the fiction book industry, but I’m not sure about everything else…at least not yet…

  9. CowboySlim says:

    As predicted, eBooks blew away Borders.
    Will Barnes & Noble last through the year?

  10. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    B&N is in the process of converting their physical stores into non-bookstores. Something a B&N employee mentioned is perhaps significant. Until some months ago, the boxes arriving at B&N stores were labeled “Barnes & Noble Booksellers”. That changed, and they’re now labeled just “Barnes & Noble”.

    Also, B&N is now in the process of another major shelf space downgrade for books. This on top of a couple earlier major downgrades. A B&N that some years ago might have carried 120,000 books now carries maybe 25,000. That kills not just the midlist but even the frontlist. It used to be that you could go in and look for a NYT Bestselling author and find not just his or her current or recent book, but every backlist title from that author that was in print. No more. Nowadays, you may not even find the current title from an author who was on the NYT list as recently as a couple months ago.

    That means publishers are going to be hit in the third quarter with a double-whammy. It’s bad enough that Borders just went belly-up, but now B&N will be returning a literal boatload of unsold books. It used to be that publishers expected to print two hardbacks for every one they sold. The problem now is that instead of just one of two coming back, two out of two will.

    All of this is killing traditionally-published authors. An author who might int he past have had an initial print run of 50,000 will now get 20,000, if he’s lucky. And the publishers will blame the authors for the correspondingly low sales. (I know that seems ridiculous, but it’s true.)

    I don’t expect B&N physical stores to be selling many books in 2012. They’ll be selling coffee and toys and gew-gaws, but not many books.

  11. CowboySlim says:

    Yes, very possible that they might morph into a Starbucks type operation.

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