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Apple iPad and other tablets crush sales of e-book readers

December 12, 2012|By Chris O'Brien
  • The Barnes & Noble Nook, right, and the Amazon.com Kindle 2
The Barnes & Noble Nook, right, and the Amazon.com Kindle 2 (Daniel Acker / Bloomberg )

Remember e-book readers? You know, those neat little electronic gadgets that let you read digital copies of books, and just books. The Nook. The Kindle. Ringing any bells?

If not, ask someone you know who can recall a time before tablets, about two years back, and they'll tell you all about them. See, once upon a time, those little devices were the hottest consumer electronics product around. 

In 2008, we bought 1 million of them, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli. By 2010, we bought 10.1 million. By 2011, it was 23.2 million.

Ah, but then we discovered tablets. And our love for e-book readers faded quickly. According to a report released Wednesday by IHS iSuppli, the number of e-book readers sold this year will fall 36% to 14.9 million units. Next year, sales will fall an additional 27%, it said. By 2016, it projected, only 7.1 e-book readers will be bought.

"The rapid growth -- followed by the immediate collapse -- of the ebook reader market is virtually unheard of, even in the volatile consumer electronics space, where products have notoriously short life cycles, Jordan Selburn, senior principal analyst for consumer platforms at IHS iSuppli, said in a statement released with the report. 

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That's bad news for companies such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com and just about anyone that makes one of the devices. Though, Amazon has already morphed the Kindle into a mini-tablet version called Kindle Fire, so it may be less hurt by this anticipated wave of disruption. 

The shift is happening despite the fact that most e-book readers are far cheaper than tablets. But apparently we don't care -- we're willing to pay much for a device that does far more things.

"The stunning rise and then blazing flameout of ebooks perfectly encapsulate what has become an axiomatic truth in the industry: Single-task devices like the ebook reader are being replaced without remorse in the lives of consumers by their multifunction equivalents, in this case by media tablets," Selburn said. "And while other uni-tasking devices -- like digital still cameras, GPS systems and MP3 players -- also face similar pressures and battle dim prospects ahead, all have had a longer time in the sun than ebook readers, demonstrating even more painfully the depth of the ebook reader’s fall."

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