Does The Future of Reading Include E-Readers?

In News by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

ebook digital publishing ereaderIn New York Magazine, Kevin Roose states: “Software is eating the world. It’s also eating the book.”

He notes that last year for the first time, according to a new survey by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, publishers earned more from digital book sales than from traditional bookstores.

But, he points out, there’s another piece of news. “The e-book market is changing, too. Increasingly, when people read e-books, they’re doing it on their existing tablets and smartphones, not on devices built expressly for reading.”

Case in point: Barnes & Noble announced that it would be spinning off its Nook division and turn it into a separate company. And as Roose said, “That company’s prospects don’t look good, given the Nook’s falling revenues (down 35 percent in the last fiscal year), and the decline in e-readers in general.”

Indeed, according to Forester, it is predicted that by 2017 only 7 million dedicated e-readers will be sold in the U.S. annually, just 1/6th of the number of iPhones that Apples sells each and every quarter.

Roose believes, that a good deal of the reason for this is the e-reader companies themselves (as Amazon adds its own smartphone to its product line, and increases the emphasis on its Kindle Fire tablets, it’s clear that less attention will be paid to its standalone Kindles, “by far the most popular e-readers on the market today.”

What seems to be going on with e-readers and tablets is the same thing that happened with iPods and iPhones – multi-feature devices killing the single-feature predecessor that started it all.

And as Roose says:

“The death of the standalone e-reader might be good news for consumers, who will have one fewer gadget to buy and lug around. But it’s bad news for the book industry. If you’ve ever tried to read a book on your phone, you’ll know why. Reading on an original Kindle or a Nook is an immersive experience. There are no push notifications from other apps to distract you from your novel, no calendar reminders or texts popping up to demand your immediate attention. And this immersion is partly why people who use dedicated e-readers tend to buy a lot of books. (According to one survey, e-book readers read approximately 24, while “traditional book” readers read only 15.)”

“The silver lining of the app-ification of books is that it has increased the potential audience for e-books. Now, everyone with a smartphone has the ability to download and read any e-book from any publisher wit a few taps. The bad news is that, if current trends hold, fewer and fewer people will have a device that is strictly for reading. Books are becoming just another app, and the publishing industry’s glorious e-reader future seems to be fading from view.”

But at Slate, Jordan Weissmann is not quite so pessimitic.

“A drop in e-book sales, which are actually more profitable for publishers than hardcovers, would certainly mean trouble for the industry. But I’m not convinced that’s where the death of e-readers will lead. Nook and Kindle owners might buy more books than your typical American, but I’m guessing a lot of that is simply because they’re more, well, bookish. As Pew wrote in January, “Adults who own e-readers like Kindles or Nooks read e-books more frequently than those who only own other devices (like tablets or cell phones). However, it is difficult to know whether that is because dedicated e-readers encourage more reading or because avid readers are more likely to purchase e-reading devices.”

Devices come. Devices go. The Kindle and Nook helped teach us all to pay for e-books, and I’m guessing that will be delivering publishers dividends for years to come.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.