Ereader sales may have stalled, but ebooks aren’t going anywhere

Waterstones’ has reported that their sales of Kindle devices were down this Christmas, while the rest of their sales were up 5%, which has been widely reported along the following lines:

Coffin For a Kindle: The eBook Market is Dying in the UK

Kindle loses ground as demand for physical books grows

Kindle sales have ‘disappeared’, says UK’s largest book retailer

Are ebooks declining? No. These misleading headlines all show either a lack of comprehension or an anti-ebook agenda. If a market is dying, it’s dedicated ereaders, not ebooks, and those are far from the same thing.

Ebooks are going nowhere, just not increasing sales at the astronomical rate that they were as people switched to digital. People are increasingly reading on phones and tablets, which have much better screens than when the Kindle first launched, and dedicated ereaders have become a niche device for dedicated readers.

Most people will buy Kindles direct from Amazon, which had them on sale. They’re also not something you’re likely to upgrade in a hurry – most people will keep using their ereader until it breaks.

Also, ereader innovation has stalled – the last significant upgrade was the introduction of built-in backlights. I like having a dedicated reading device – the battery lasts longer and it doesn’t distract me with notifications, or the possibility of checking Facebook. But I think they face an uphill battle to remain relevant.

Here are a few things that could perhaps kickstart ereader sales again:

High-quality colour eink displays

Most efforts so far have looked washed out and disappointing. If anyone can replicate the quality of glossy colour print in a low-energy, non-backlit display, they’ll be onto a winner. But it looks like the technology isn’t there yet.

Better apps and ecosystem integration

If someone creates a fork of Android specifically for eink devices so that apps like Instapaper, Evernote and Words with Friends can easily be adapted by developers for ereaders, that could also give them a new lease of life. (Kobo has Pocket integration and it’s possible to get Instapaper articles delivered to your Kindle, but opening up ereaders to native apps would open up more and better possibilities).

Better ebook formatting

Ebooks have a long way to go to catch up with the latest in web design and responsive layouts. EPUB3 is supposed to bring this, but support for EPUB3 is very incomplete across all ebook readers, including mobile and tablet apps, not just ereaders.

Low cost

With decent cheap tablets now on sale for around the £100 mark, most people aren’t going to pay more for something that just does one thing – reading – even if it does it better. But if basic ereaders reach the £20-30 price range, then than makes them widely accessible and affordable even for whole families.

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