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Sizing up trends in the evolution of e-reading

January 9, 2013

The holidays are a great time to catch up on reading — while travelling home, on vacation or when settling into your favourite reading chair with a cup of tea. With the holiday period behind us, I thought I’d examine the latest trends in reading, specifically the e-reader market.

If you’re an avid reader between the ages of 18 and 50 with at least some college education and living in a household that earns more than $50,000, chances are good that you were doing at least some of your reading over this holiday season on an e-reader.

Even if you didn’t purchase any e-book titles, perhaps you were catching up on news using a tablet app like Zite, while your teenaged family member was enjoying fan fiction written by aspiring writers who post their work on Wattpad. Or perhaps you borrowed a title from your local public library system, such as the Toronto Public Library. In the United States, some libraries offering e-book lending programs through OverDrive saw record numbers of borrowing over this holiday season.

Such activities seem to have become commonplace in 2012, with the cost of e-readers falling below $100 in late 2011, well below consumer spending thresholds.

All of this got me wondering about the e-book market and where things are headed in 2013.

Sizing up the e-book market: content versus devices

Ontario represents two-thirds of the $2 billion book industry in Canada (as measured by operating revenue); the US industry is estimated at $27 billion (by publishers’ sales revenue).

As a segment of the book industry, estimates for e-book sales in Canada have ranged from 10% of all English books sold to 16.3% of the overall book market. By comparison, one study reported that e-books accounted for about 5% of books sold in advanced markets like the US in 2010, and forecasted this figure to grow to between 15 and 25% by 2015.

However, more recent figures from the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group estimate the market share of e-books to be already about 25% of all trade sales in the US, with e-book sales having reached $2 billion by 2011.

The market for e-book content is likely to continue to grow, but the same might not be said of dedicated e-book readers. Some analysts are predicting that the market for this single-purpose device already peaked in 2011, when 23 million units shipped to customers. The latest product offerings from companies leading the e-publishing market also seem to indicate a trend toward tablet formats, as seen in the timeline below.

Other possibilities include a convergence of options: for example, a prototype from YotaPhone offers both LCD and e-ink displays, and will be exhibiting at Mobile World Congress later this February.

A timeline of the e-book market: tech and social

Timeline Milestone
1997 E Ink Corporation founded as a spinoff from MIT
1998 First e-book readers launch, including Rocket, SoftBook and Cybook
2004 Google partners with high-profile research libraries to mass-digitize print collections
2004 Sony releases first e-ink reader in Japan
2005 LibraryThing launches as an online service to help people catalogue their books easily
2006 Wattpad launches as a mobile platform to “discover and share stories”
2006 Sony Readers released in US ($349)
2006 Shelfari launches as a social cataloguing site for books
2007 Goodreads launches to “help people find and share books they love”
2007 Amazon Kindle released in US ($399)
2007 iPhone released by Apple in US ($499 to $599)
2008 HarperCollins launches Authonomy for aspiring writers to share manuscripts and feedback
2008 Shelfari acquired by Amazon
2009 Shortcovers, later Kobo, launches as an online platform in Canada
2009 Amazon’s Kindle becomes available to customers in Canada
2009 Barnes & Noble releases Nook ($259)
2009 Kindle 2 becomes available in the US ($359)
2010 iPad released by Apple in US ($499 to $829)
2010 Apple announces 250,000 e-book downloads from iBookstore on day of release
2010 Amazon announces sales of e-books overtaking hardcovers April to June
2010 Kobo launches as dedicated e-reader in Canada
2010 Kobo becomes available in US through Borders bookstores ($149)
2010 Nook colour released ($249)
2011 Kobo launches the Touch Edition eReader with 5.6 million readers in over 100 countries
2011 Kindle Library Lending program launches in partnership with OverDrive
2011 Kobo’s tablet, Vox, released ($199)
2011 Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet and other versions, including Touch, released ($79 to $199)
2011 Nook Tablet introduced
2012 Kobo readers retail in Canada ($79 to $199)
2012 iPad mini retails in Canada ($329 to $529)
2012 Microsoft partners with Barnes and Noble on e-reader for Windows 8, Bing

Sources: CrunchBase, Wikipedia, pewinternet.org, Ontario Media Development Corporation, Amazon, Indigo, Apple, Kobo

The above is only a selected timeline of innovations depicting the evolution of the e-book market, though I’ve tried to include a mix of players within the broader e-publishing and e-reading ecosystem. I think one of the more interesting things about tracking the e-reader market is that it’s like watching an experiment in innovation.

What trends or insights can you spot in terms of the market adoption of technological innovation over time? What significant milestones are missing from the timeline?

Beyond e-books

Of course, e-books only make up a small segment of the overall e-publishing market. For more market and industry trends on e-publishing and related digital industries, check out the latest offerings from the Startup Library:

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  • http://twitter.com/barterpaul Paul Barter

    One thing missing is the DOJ prosecution of publishers and Apple for artificially inflating digital book prices. With settlements prices should adjust driving growth.

  • http://www.marsdd.com MaRS

    Thanks for letting us know. We appreciate hearing from our readers.

Hyun-Duck Chung

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Hyun-Duck provides market insights to Ontario startups as part of the Market Intelligence team at MaRS, and is a researcher with the Solutions Lab, currently looking at innovations in food systems. She is cross-appointed from the University of Toronto.

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