Thursday, January 10, 2013

Have E-Readers Peaked?

I’ve been pondering about getting an e-reader. A dedicated one since I’m so easily distracted by my phone, laptop and tablet. It’s just too easy to switch to chatting on Skype or seeing what my friends are up to on Facebook or Twitter. I also feel I don’t read enough. It’s not for want of books. I have absolutely loads of them! I think I’ve bought them in the hope that you can read by osmosis by them simply sitting on your bookshelves for long enough. I fear that doesn’t actually work…
So I polled my smart friends on Facebook and asked for their recommendations. I wondered if there were viable alternatives to the Kindle. And if not, which Kindle anyway as there are several to choose from? Well, opinions were divided. There was much love for various versions of the Kindle but there were votes for the Nook and Kobo, and also for iPad and iPad mini (although, that wouldn’t work for me and how easily I get distracted). There was even a vote for the iPhone and, from a digital enthusiast, for old-fashioned paper books. I’m as confused as I was before I asked the question. With all the books on my shelves, it’s arguable as to whether I need an e-reader at all since I have several years worth of reading just a few feet from where I’m sitting right now. Hmm.
It raised some interesting questions about the future of e-readers and then I came across this article from MIT Technology Review which suggests that Amazon may well have undermined the e-reader market it created. It looks like sales of e-readers are falling in favour of general purpose tablets.

Of course, these are analyst predictions rather than actual figures for 2012 and 2013 so, we don’t actually know yet. And anecdotally, I see a lot of e-readers on the London Underground every day. And a lot of my friends are enthusiasts judging by their comments.
You may be thinking why this matters anyway? Well, as the author of the MIT article says, it matters because the future of book publishing will be influenced by what devices we use for reading. I’m convinced my reading overall is much higher because I’m online most of the time, but I am most certainly reading fewer books, magazines and newspapers as my time is taken up skimming twitter timelines, glancing at blog posts and reading the first couple of paragraphs of something and then moving on. My attention span is not like it used to be. And if I want to read anything longer than a few paragraphs and really take it in, I have to print it off and read it offline.
Even if dedicated readers become a niche hardware product, e-reading services like Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem most definitely will not be niche. Book stores are already in trouble on the High Street. It’s very hard to compete with what Amazon can offer online, even without the Kindle. But being able to pick up a book on one device, leave it and pick up the book again on another device, exactly where you left off, is almost magical and a very powerful reason for using.
So, will I be treating myself to an e-reader? Not just yet. I’m going to try and work through a few of the books on my bookshelves first.