E-reader sales expected to hit wall in 2014

iPad tablet, other devices with e-book content will cap e-reader sales

E-readers like the Kindle and Nook are surging in popularity, but their sales will hit a wall in 2014 in the face of competition from a wide range of consumer electronics devices, including the iPad, according to a London-based analyst firm.

Sales of dedicated e-reader devices are expected to soar to 12.2 million in 2010, up from nearly 5 million in 2009, Informa Telecoms & Media said today. Sales will continue to grow to a high of 14 million in 2013, but they will drop off 7% to 13 million the following year, Informa said.

"Overall, Informa is skeptical about the sales growth for mobile broadband e-readers," said Informa analyst Gavin Byrne.

Today's e-readers, with mostly black-and-white e-ink displays, offer a good reading experience, are highly portable and have solid battery life, but they face stiff competition. They are "under threat from the availability of electronic book content on multifunctional devices such as mobile phones, tablet computers, netbooks and other portable consumer electronic devices," said Byrne.

The iPad, which becomes available in the U.K. this week, will be "perhaps the highest-profile competition for dedicated e-readers," Byrne said.

As the e-reader market matures, Byrne predicts the devices will evolve into two groups: One will be made up of lower-price devices with few features and no wireless connectivity, and the other will include more expensive devices with advanced features.

The low-cost e-readers of the future could be used with a PC or USB dongle to access content, he said. Possible examples of such devices include future iterations of the low-cost Kobo e-reader, which is currently available for $149.

At the higher end, devices that today are dedicated e-readers could evolve into tablets like the iPad, making them more like smartbooks than e-readers. Byrne said an example of an early step in that direction is Barnes & Noble's recent upgrade of its Nook software. Nook Version 1.3, which the bookseller transmitted to users wirelessly, includes games and a beta of a basic Web browser.

The Nook's software upgrade, according to a description in a Nook blog, includes a feature that allows users to read selected books inside a Barnes & Noble store for up to an hour a day at no cost. Other improvements include a faster page-turn speed and enhanced touchscreen navigation on the color panels at the bottom of the device.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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