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