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Significant eReader market shrinkage by 2024 – should publishers be worried?

A report from MarketWatch predicts that the eReader market in the US will decline by 12.7% per annum over the next five years. Note that this is a prediction for the devices themselves, not eBooks.

Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader, who usually dismisses this kind of claim, thinks they might be on to something:

As fond as I am of eReaders, it would not surprise me if this happened just as predicted. Smartphones and tablets really have replaced eReaders as the leading devices used for reading. They’re not just always available, but they also have more features and functionality.

What does this mean for publishers though? Should they be worried? Not necessarily. A decline in eReader sales does not equal a decline in eBook sales and it’s worth noting a few things:

  1. Consumers are disinclined to upgrade to a new device in the way we are our smartphones – which often don’t even last the length of the contract – because the difference between the devices of a few years ago and those from this year is negligible and many eReaders bought even three or four years ago are still working perfectly.

  2. Readers will still buy a product based in part on the end use. For example, people are more likely to buy cookbooks, graphic novels or highly illustrated children’s books in eBook format only if they own a tablet, not if all they have is an eReader.

  3. With eBooks, there is more money in mass market/commercial fiction than any other strand of publishing, e.g. academic texts, so people will still be buying those books for their eReader devices even if they aren’t buying new devices.

In short, this may be bad news for the manufacturers of devices that excel at

eBooks but have a poor user experience for their other features such as web browsing, but for publishers across the board this should have little direct impact.

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