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Last chapter for e-readers?

December 13, 2012 06:00 AM ET

"The stunning rise and then blazing flameout of e-readers perfectly encapsulate what has become an axiomatic truth in the industry: Single task devices like the e-reader are being replaced without remorse in the lives of consumers by their multifunction equivalents, in this case by media tablets," Selburn said.

Other single-task devices. such as digital still cameras, GPS systems and MP3 players face similar market pressures and dim prospects, but have had more years on the market than e-readers, "demonstrating even more painfully the depth of the e-book readers' fall," Selburn added.

Ryan Reith, an analyst at IDC, added that "people would love to have a smartphone, e-reader, tablet and laptop, but in reality we need to realize that consumers can't generally afford to buy all of these devices." Still, e-readers are cheap and serve a specific purpose, "so will certainly be around for a long time, but growth will be very limited."

Not all is lost, however. Selburn said Amazon is insulated from declining interest in e-readers because of its huge sales of e-books.

Another analyst, Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, agreed. "While the market for dedicated e-readers is shrinking, the market for dedicated consumption devices tied to particular delivery channels like Amazon with Kindle will remain healthy, albeit smaller than for the overall tablet market," Gold said.

There will still be e-reader buyers interested in spending less than for tablets, which will keep e-readers a "a small but important" market, Gold added. "Not everyone is willing to spend $500 to $600 for a full-featured tablet."

Selburn also said e-reader manufacturers will face more pressure to keep costs low and to sell the devices at even lower prices. There is industry speculatlion that the 5-in. Txtr Beagle reader will sell for just $13 in 2013, when subsidized by wireless carriers, he said.

Such extremely low pricing may help prolong the life of the e-reader market, but Selburn lamented that e-readers will never regain the popularity they once had -- all the way back in 2011.

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

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