Are tablets driving e-readers to extinction?

Summary:One niche device after another is falling victim to convergence. Are e-book readers next?

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Yes

or

No

Matthew Miller

Matthew Miller

Best Argument: No

37%
63%

Audience Favored: No (63%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Why carry two devices when one will do?

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes: This is the mantra that has seen the camera, GPS receiver, media player, portable games, and much more all converge into portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. Why? Simple. It is far easier to carry one device than many.

Given that post-PC devices have already put a myriad of consumer electronics devices on the endangered list, it is only a matter of time until the humble e-reader is kicked to the curb by the tablet. And why not? Both devices are flat, slate-like objects designed to be held in the hand, with a screen on one side.

Another factor is price. When the only mainstream tablet available to was the iPad, cheap e-readers were an attractive option; but as the price of tablets have fallen, this factor is now moot. Why would someone choose a single-purpose device when they can get a multi-purpose tablet for roughly the same price?

The days of the e-reader are numbered.

I always go back to my e-book reader

Matthew Miller: I own a few tablets (iPad, Surface RT, Nexus 7, HP TouchPad, HTC Flyer) and primarily use them for media consumption or content creation. They all support multiple e-book applications and can be used for reading, but I always go back to my Kindle or other e-book reader. My book reading experience is much better on a dedicated e-reader because I get a distraction-free period of time on an eye comforting display to dive into my books. It is not enjoyable to read e-books on an iPad at the beach or by the pool and also can be a financially dangerous move.

Prices have dropped to just about $100 for most e-readers, which is still less than half the cost of most tablets so there is a cost savings if your primary intent for a tablet is to read books. It has been a long road for e-reader manufacturers to convince the public that reading electronic books can be just as good as paper books and there are still many who prefer paper (my oldest daughter for one), but I think the exposure to devices like the iPad are convincing people to take a second look at e-books.

Tablets may actually help the e-reader market as people first discover they can enjoy books on an electronic device and then find that the book reading experience is even better on a lightweight, eInk-based e-reader that is less expensive and has a battery that lasts forever.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Checking in

    Everybody ready?

    Posted by Rachel King

    Ready

    Set to go

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Let the games begin

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Your preferences

    Just to know where everyone is starting from, which devices do you each use for reading? (Or is anyone willing to admit they still read on plain old paper anymore?)

    Posted by Rachel King

    Any one will do

    I read using whatever I have with me -- dead tree books, books on my Kindle, and books on my iPad or iPhone. While I have to admit that I like the screen on my Kindle -- that e-ink screen is the closest thing to reading a paper page -- I'm finding that my iPad is the device I have with me most often.

    And that's the clincher. It's not the best device that wins, it's the device that you have closest to hand. I will, at a pinch, read on my iPhone, but the screen is a little on the cramped side. The iPad -- or any other 7-inch plus tablet -- makes an adequate e-reader. Sure, you have to compromise -- mostly when it comes to the screen -- but people are now so used to reading text on glossy screens that this is not a deal-breakers.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Kindle Paperwhite finally meets all my e-reader desires

    I started reading ebooks several years ago on a Sony PRS-505 and have progressed through many different models, but my prime device today is the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. I use my iPad for reading non-Kindle content I still have around and when I am out and about and have 15 minutes of waiting or so I will fire up the Kindle or Nook app on my smartphone to get a bit of reading done. The only reading I do on paper is with magazines and even with excellent iPad apps I still prefer paper magazines over anything electronic. I never buy paper books though and do all my reading on electronic devices.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What's next?

    Let's be honest. Is describing e-readers as "going extinct" a bit melodramatic or simply the hard truth about where the market is headed?

    Posted by Rachel King

    Survival of the fittest

    Just as when the dinosaurs became extinct, crocodiles survived, not all e-readers will die off. The issue isn't that of eradication or extinction, but erosion of market share.

    E-readers first came to market before the tablet wave took off, so there was a void there. Even the initial stratospheric price of devices such as the Kindle didn't dampen enthusiasm. But once the iPad came to market, closely followed by an army of Android devices, that e-reader niche began to collapse.

    As price erosion has taken its toll on Android tablets, the difference between an e-reader and a full-blown tablet is such that it doesn't make sense to spend money on what is essentially a one-trick pony.

    And it's not like Amazon and Barnes & Noble aren't aware of this shift in economics, given that both offer their own tablets.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    There is more potential for growth than for extinction

    It a few years for e-readers to even catch on with the consumers as many of us early adopters were using Sony Readers for years before the Kindle finally brought more attention to the space. The significant drop in price of e-readers is what really spurred the market and with continued lower prices the dedicated e-reader is a fantastic value. There will always be enough e-reader fans to keep the market alive and there is still a huge market of potential new e-reader buyers. I know many people that still prefer to read paper books, but I think that market will continue to shrink as people become more focused on reducing paper and waste. These readers want a book-like experience and heavy tablets do not satisfy that goal so I think it is way too premature to discount the e-reader market.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    A better fit

    Are there any use cases where an e-reader might suit a consumer's needs better than a tablet with features and functionality?

    Posted by Rachel King

    A niche market

    Probably, but by asking the question we're admitting that e-readers have transitioned from a mainstream market into a niche market, and while niche isn't a problem for high-margin devices such as digital SLRs, it usually means death for a low-margin product.

    Low margins, plus low sales means stagnation, which ultimately leads to death.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Distraction free FTW

    I think there are several reasons that e-readers are better suited for reading than a tablet. One of my primary reasons for using e-readers is to enjoy a complete distraction-free reading experience. I know you can turn off WiFi or notifications on a tablet to try to mimic an experience without distractions, but there is always that temptation to quickly check your email or hop on over to a social network. With a dedicated e-reader you get to focus on the book and leave the world behind.

    Other major advantages of an e-reader over a tablet include extremely long battery life, display technology that is easy on the eyes and matches paper books, much lighter weight in the hand, ability to read at the beach, by the pool, or other places with sunlight or bright light, there are no security concerns if you lose your e-reader, and a cost much less than a tablet so if it is lost or broken it is not as expensive to replace.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Smartphone tablets?

    Is there any room for smartphones here? Can they replace an e-reader? Or even smartphone-tablet hybrids like Samsung's Note?

    Posted by Rachel King

    Just wait

    Definitely.

    While the screens on smartphones are smaller than those found on tablets, people are willing to make that compromise when it allows them to pick up a book they were reading earlier on a tablet when all they have to hand is their smartphone.

    Also, as smartphones get high pixel density displays, these are better suited to reading, and while they're not as good as e-ink at simulating the paper experience, wanting that paper experience in the first place is mostly a step back.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Smartphones are good e-reader companions, but won't replace them.

    I think it is great to have e-reader software on smartphones for those short reading periods that occur while you are waiting in line, at the movies sitting through the lame pre-preview content, or other times when your phone is with you but your tablet or e-reader is not. Even as a smartphone enthusiast, I do not think they can replace an e-reader. Phones are too important for many other things and using them as focused reading devices consumes battery that is better spent on other functions.

    I have a Samsung Galaxy Note II and do find it works well for reading, but more as a tablet replacement than an e-reader substitute. I find I never use the Nexus 7 with the Note II in my collection, but the Kindle still takes precedence for reading.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Two are better than one?

    Aren't there plenty of consumers who own both an e-reader and a tablet? What is the rationality behind this?

    Posted by Rachel King

    Let me count the ways

    I can think of a few ...

    - People just love gadgets.

    - People prefer the e-ink screen.

    - They bought an e-reader before buying a tablet.

    - E-readers are more durable.

    There are undoubtedly more reasons, but these I think are the primarily ones.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Avid readers won't compromise the experience

    I don't have any figures to support this, but looking at the consumer that buys mobile gear I do think there are quite a few e-reader owners who also own a tablet. I don't count myself because I am a bit unusual in that I buy most mobile devices. The tablet seems to be more focused on multimedia content (movies, TV shows), gaming, and web surfing where the e-reader is primarily focused on just reading. Those who are avid readers can easily rationalize an inexpensive e-reader just for reading with an iPad or other tablet for everything else. Tablets are really just too heavy and have limited battery life to perform as full time e-readers.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Ereader popularity - can tablets catch up?

    So far, e-readers have stayed popular because they're still better for reading books. What is it going to take for tablets to catch up here?

    Posted by Rachel King

    Just a matter of time

    Time. Plain and simple.

    That said, the market leader when it comes to e-readers is Amazon's Kindle, but so far Amazon hasn't revealed how many Kindles it has sold. I always find it a little worrying when a company is avoidant when it comes to sales figures.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Lose weight, gain battery life

    Exactly right, e-readers are vastly better for books. Tablets are going to have to get lighter and extend battery life considerably before I would consider using a tablet only for ebook reading. Display resolutions have continued to vastly improve on tablets and I have never really been bothered by eye strain when reading on tablets. That said, I still personally prefer the eInk display experience on a dedicated device.

    It is not realistic at this time for tablets to use eInk for their display technology as the refresh rate kills that experience and people won't go backwards from what they use now on tablets.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Save the e-reader

    Amazon and Barnes & Noble are arguably the top two e-reader makers. What could they do to save the e-reader from disappearing?

    Posted by Rachel King

    Good luck

    Short of giving the tablet away for next to nothing -- taking the disposable razors approach of making the money back off the blades -- very little.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Free e-readers, make money on the books

    These two companies can continue to offer deals on the hardware and make profits from the content and I think we will eventually see free e-reader hardware from them as they attempt to "sell" the e-reader to the mass market. They could release books first for e-readers and then roll out paper copies a month or so later to get people to buy e-readers for timely new content. I doubt they would anytime soon, but they could also take the drastic step of selling almost all of their books in electronic form. I understand that some are never published for electronic distribution and some don't work well in this form.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Who wants them?

    If e-readers are becoming a niche category, what does the consumer base look like? Who would want to buy them, and why?

    Posted by Rachel King

    Some possibilities

    I can think of a few different consumer markets:

    - People who buy gadgets because they love gadgets.

    - Technophobes who don't want tablets.

    - Kids.

    - People who received them as gifts.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Commuters, travelers, and those getting into books

    The Kindle and Nook devices appear to be selling well, but we don't get detailed breakdown figures on what kind of devices (tablets or eInk e-readers) are doing so well. It could be that the Kindle Fire and Nook tablets are the only devices really selling with people focused on the media experience, but with the software improvements from both companies in the ebook space I have to believe that the e-readers are still doing well.

    The e-reader market has always been a rather niche market, but I see more people on my train commute and at work using Amazon Kindle eInk devices today than I ever have before. I do not believe there is yet a real need for tablets and for many people they cannot justify the high price of a tablet for questionable uses. It is much easier to spend $75 to $115 on a Kindle to read books on the go than it is to spend hundreds on a tablet that might just sit and collect dust.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Who will be the biggest loser?

    If e-readers go the way of the dinosaur, what businesses might suffer the most? Manufacturers? Supply chain partners? Or booksellers?

    Posted by Rachel King

    E-Ink would go dry

    The biggest loser as far as I can see will be the E-Ink Corporation, the makers of the displays used in e-readers.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Case makers and manufacturers may feel the impact

    While I am a fan of e-readers, it wouldn't be the end of the world for me if I had to use my tablet or go back to reading paper books. They offer me a very convenient way to read books, but I still enjoy paper books and love the physical bookstore experience. I think Amazon and Barnes & Noble, along with book publishers, would be just fine if e-readers were eliminated. Manufacturers could likely transition to other businesses, but they may experience cutbacks since a market would be eliminated.

    I think one of the most impacted would be those making accessories for the large e-reader market, but even these companies could then focus on tablets and smartphones.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Last question. Elimination round

    Are there other devices on the market (i.e. point-and-shoot digital cameras) vulnerable to the same kinds of risks because of mobile devices? Which ones might we see eliminated next?

    Posted by Rachel King

    What's vulnerable?

    can see a few vulnerable devices, including:

    - Point-and-shoot cameras

    - In-car GPS receivers

    - Standalone media players, including the iPod

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Camera and PND gone, but still need for dedicated devices

    I never carry a point-and-shoot anymore and while smartphones still aren't up to the same quality, I don't print photos and a smartphone works perfectly well for capturing what I need and sharing those moments online. My smartphone is also always with me so it has already replaced a camera for me. We have seen the dedicated GPS device go away for the most part and I know that my smartphone is my portable navigation device as well as my communication device.

    I have tried using my smartphones for tracking my runs and they do a good job, but a dedicated GPS watch is much more convenient and I prefer such a dedicated, single purpose device. Single purpose devices seem to excel at their purpose more than a smartphone that does a decent job at many tasks. I doubt these new mobile devices will replace e-readers, DSLR cameras, and fitness watches.

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    That's all folks

    Thanks to both gentlemen for a great debate. Check in Wednesday for the closing statements. And Thursday for the verdict.

    Posted by Rachel King

    My thanks

    Rachel for doing a great job and Matthew for giving me a tough debate. Let's see who wins.

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

    I am for Yes

    Thanks Rachel and Adrian

    I enjoyed the debate, now I am off to read an e-book without distractions :)

    Matthew Miller

    I am for No

Closing Statements

The future of the e-reader is the tablet

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

"Why am I buying a device that can only do one thing -- even if it does that one thing very well indeed -- when I can pick up a device that has near limitless possibilities instead?" This is the question that anyone thinking of buying an e-reader needs to ask themselves.

I will concede that the e-ink screens on e-readers are nice -- very nice, and so pleasant on the eyes -- replicating the paper experience is, in my opinion, a step back. Modern displays, in particular the high-pixel-density 'retina' displays, are so crisp and clear that they ideal for even extended bouts of reading.

While there's no doubt a case for standalone e-readers--for the mainstream market the trend is moving away from standalone devices and towards convergence devices that bring multiple functions into a single device and is easy to carry around. Not only is this cheaper -- one device costs less than multiple devices -- but a single device is easier to manage and carry around.

There's still a place for e-books

Matthew Miller

Using an iPad or a tablet for e-book reading is a compromise solution. Many people do it because their tablet is more readily available. However, people who like to read are already compromising by going to an electronic form and those who are serious about reading want an experience as close to a "real" book as possible. Only an e-reader can give you a display like paper, battery life that you don't have to think about, weight that is even less than a paper book, and convenience to carry many titles with you at once.


I work all day on a mainstream display so it is refreshing to go to an e-reader for book reading and get away from a machine that distracts me with email, social network updates, web browsing, gaming, and other unnecessary annoyances. I actually think there is a lot more potential for growth in the e-reader market as many people still read paper books and have yet to transition to electronic form. If Amazon and Barnes & Noble start giving away e-readers they may speed up the adoption of e-books and grow the market. People still try to figure out if there is a place in their lives for tablets.

And the winner is...

Rachel King

This was actually a very hard decision for me to make as I think both gentlemen made some solid points. After racking my brain over this issue for a considerable time, I ended up leaning towards the niche argument, thus giving the win this week to Matt Miller.

But first let me say that there were definitely several issues on which I agreed strongly with Adrian. For one, I’m a minimalist. So I prefer buying, owning, and carrying around as few electronic devices as possible. I have owned Nook e-readers in the past, but I have consolidated and typically only read on my iPad 2 and smartphone now. It also just gets too expensive to buy (and later upgrade) more gadgets all of the time.

However, I still find the reading experience -- especially outdoors -- to be far, far better on electronic-ink displays than on virtually any tablet or smartphone with a color display.

That said, there are still a few spots where technology hasn’t caught up -- although that’s not to say it won’t within the next few years, if not sooner.

So there are some categories, such as e-readers and digital cameras, where it is still difficult to defend the consolidation argument still. For example, I still own a point-and-shoot camera (the Canon PowerShot S100) because it’s incredibly portable and snaps high-quality photos...while my Samsung Galaxy Nexus just doesn’t.

As the technology to make them advances and becomes more affordable, e-book readers will continue to drop in price, making them more appealing to consumers who don’t care or want all of the features that come with a more expensive tablet.

Furthermore, being that they are cheaper to produce and sell, e-readers could have a lot of potential in developing markets. While I don’t have figures for this, I would predict that e-readers could have some more educational use cases too and be distributed to students much like low-cost laptops.

Overall, while it will be downsized considerably in comparison to what it was during the last few years, I believe the dedicated e-reader segment can still exist as a niche market.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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