The Kindle’s days are numbered

Kindle reading on the Tube / via the Guardian

Whenever I’m on the tube in London, one thing I notice is the number of people quietly absorbed in reading a book or other text content on a Kindle as the crowded trains speed their way through the tunnels beneath the city.

Amazon’s near-ubiquitous ebook reader has changed the reading habits of millions of people worldwide, and disrupted an established industry to attain a leading position in the shift to digital as the maker of the hardware platform on which you consume the content, and also the source of much of the digital content itself.

Amazon’s Kindle in its various permutations aren’t the only game in town. But it is the dominant force.

The traditional – and long disrupted – book-publishing industry has begun to address a rapidly-changing and digitally-focused market – witness consolidations during 2012, for example, such as the combination between Random House and Penguin owned by Bertelsman and Pearson respectively, two of the world’s biggest media firms.

Yet could ebook readers like the Kindle be facing their own disruptive change in a broad market that itself is going through (more) disruptive change? Might the sights of Kindle-readers on the tube as depicted in the photo above from a Guardian story on Christmas Day last year – ironically, on the continued rise of ebook readers like the Kindle – become a rare one?

The disruptor? Tablets like the iPad. You may think “Well that’s no surprise.” But Amazon and other ebook makers often tout the low cost, very long battery life, natural reading (no backlight), plentiful supply of cheap content as among the most compelling reasons why ebook readers are the best choice for reading ebooks than tablets which do other things as well.

Indeed, those are compelling reasons, much of the fuel driving growth (and disruption) of the market.

But according to new research just published by Pew in the US, there is a clear trend showing that more people are now using tablets to read ebooks and other digital content than dedicated ebook readers. Tablets will assume a dominant position in such a role, as Pew’s research analysis and this chart suggest.


The chart also shows that growth is strong among survey respondents who say they own either a tablet or an ebook reader like a Kindle. But the clear and big growth over the past two years is in tablets specifically.

[…] The move toward e-book reading coincides with an increase in ownership of electronic book reading devices. In all, the number of owners of either a tablet computer or e-book reading device such as a Kindle or Nook grew from 18% in late 2011 to 33% in late 2012. As of November 2012, some 25% of Americans ages 16 and older own tablet computers such as iPads or Kindle Fires, up from 10% who owned tablets in late 2011. And in late 2012 19% of Americans ages 16 and older own e-book reading devices such as Kindles and Nooks, compared with 10% who owned such devices at the same time last year.

While it doesn’t mean that Kindles, etc, are suddenly obsolete (although there is some writing on the wall), I think it does mean that we want and expect more from our devices: things like easy sharing, for instance, touchscreens, and the ability to manipulate and repurpose the content quickly and easily.

Tablets like the iPad let us do exactly such things. And with the Kindle, Amazon offers free software that lets you read Kindle-format ebooks on your computer, tablet and smartphone, therefore giving you the precise platform choices to satisfy your wants and expectations.

Maybe, as someone once said, it’s all about software not hardware.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.


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  2. James Cridland

    “there is a clear trend showing that more people are now using tablets to read ebooks and other digital content than dedicated ebook readers.” – on the contrary, I can’t see a shred of evidence to show this, let alone a ‘clear trend’.

    The Pew research – thank you for linking to it – says nothing about what devices people read books on. The research simply says that more people now own tablets than ebook readers. This possibly comes as a surprise to nobody. However, it doesn’t follow that more people are using tablets to read ebooks. Indeed, Pew doesn’t say that at all.

    I own a “Kindle Keyboard”, as I believe it is termed; as well as a Nexus 7 and a Galaxy Nexus (and a mac laptop). I can read my Kindle content on all of them. However, most of my e-reading happens on the e-ink Kindle hardware. I know others like me – who use Kindle hardware to read books, even though we own tablets as well. (The reasons are myriad – month-long battery life, a nicer screen, a lighter device, better hardware buttons, nicer UI.) I plan to buy a Paperlight Kindle at some stage in the new year, too.

    The Kindle’s days might be numbered: but there’s no evidence in anything you link to that says so. Your headline, and much of this blog post, is either misleading representation of the research, or simply personal opinion painted as fact – sadly endemic of many posts on the web. Shame.

    • Neville Hobson

      Thanks for sharing your opinions, James. The facts speak for themselves, really, whether suggested in Pew’s latest research or what you can find others reporting and commenting on elsewhere on the social web.

      I own a Kindle as well, like yours, that Amazon now calls “Kindle Keyboard.” I love it but I don’t intend to buy another Kindle as it’s cumbersome, anachronistic in the realm of tablets and I don’t see it remaining a major ebook content-consumption device in the next few years as the growth in tablets, smartphones and other more sophisicated mobile devices for consuming content will eclipse it.

      Personal opinion? Well, yes, it’s how I’m reading these particular tea leaves.

      • Jon

        What I really value in my Kindle – aside from the reading comfort and battery life – is precisely the fact it’s *not* a tablet – it’s *not* connected to the rest of the world, and I can read a book without distraction.

  3. Michael Mahemoff (@mahemoff)

    It’s destined to be a niche gadget for people who want to read in the sun or want a device that doesn’t always need charging. I think this is why Apple was never interested in it; it always felt clumsy and mostly covered by tablets.

    There are still interesting applications of e-ink beyond reading devices though, e.g. connected watches which don’t require constant charging, signage, and hybrid tablets/phones.

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