By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 29 July, 2011

Sales of e-book readers have escalated over the past year and online bookstores report that the demand for e-books is souring. In May this year, Amazon announced that sales of e-books for use on its Kindle e-book reader device had exceeded sales of conventional print books.

“We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly,” says Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon.com. He says Amazon has been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle e-books for less than four years.

Recent research by IHS iSuppli indicates that the growing popularity of e-readers has sent the book publishing industry into a long-term decline.“The industry has entered a phase of  disruption that will be as significant as the major changes impacting the music and movie businesses,”  says Steve Mather, principal analyst for wireless, at IHS.

He says supplier shipments of e-book readers, also known as e-readers, are expected to more than triple from 2010 to 2014. But e-readers are under threat from the encroachment of media tablets, which many consumers will use to view e-books.

Over the past 18 months e-reader manufacturers have cut their prices to the point where they are earning near-zero margins. These devices are therefore unlikely to get much cheaper, says Mather.

Research company In-Stat says in a recent report that e-readers still offer the truest reading experience and appeal most to avid readers. But a broader market of consumers want the next mobile device they buy to have multimedia functionality, like web browsing, video, and gaming.

Tablets, like the Apple iPad, are optimised to deliver this kind of multifunction experience, and therefore, represent a stronger opportunity for suppliers and manufacturers alike, it says. The company predicts that shipment volumes of tablets will outpace that of e-readers by the end of this year.

“In fact, e-reader manufacturers will soon begin adding tablet-like devices to their lineups in order to take advantage of the tablet frenzy,” says senior In-stat analyst Stephanie Ethier. She says book seller Barnes & Noble already offers the Color Nook, which is often compared to a tablet.

Google’s iriver Story high definition e-reader recently went on sale in the USA at a recommended retail price of just under $140 and is bound to eventually make its way to SA. The device comes with a high-resolution e-ink screen and a full keyboard and includes wireless access to hundreds of thousands of Google e-books to purchase and more than 3-million for free.

South African online retailer Kalahari.net sells e-book readers and tablet PCs and offers more than 300,000 ebook titles. The company’s head of merchandising, Caroline Nixon, says most e-book readers support printed material that is published in PDF format, and incorporate Epub technology, which allows the flow of text to adjust to the size of the screen of the device.

“With PDF, the text sometimes flows off the screen.” She says, most e-books are now available in both ePub and PDF format.

Kalahari.net has developed a freely downloadable software application that can open both ePub and PDF e-books on e-reader devices, regardless of whether they are protected or not protected. It also provides free applications that allow eBooks purchased from Kalahari.net in ePub or PDF format to be read on an iPad or any Android based tablet device, and provides a similar user experience to that of an e-book reader.

Nixon says free software can also be accessed that allows e-books from any source to be read on a Windows based PC or Apple Mac in e-reader quality. She says iPad users can have a library box on Kalahari.net where they can store all the ebooks they have purchased and access them when they want to read them.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

Comments are closed.