It’s a slightly unsettling and sinking feeling I get whenever I hear discussion about booksellers and others moving away from E-Ink based ereaders towards tablets. It’s not a hatred of backlit screens and the like, in fact I like them quite a bit.
Rather it’s that such a move is an implicit acceptance that the stand-alone ereader device is moving from a top priority to a secondary one. The concern for me is that as apps, movies, tv shows, music and games become bigger and better businesses for these players, books become less and less important. With such a shift, books become simply PART of a larger media mix as opposed to being the MAJOR element.
This is not a spurious concern either. B&N indicated that their Tablet device was proving a more successful product for them than their E-Ink device was. Especially because it opened up more opportunities and markets. I’ve written a bit about this previously, particularly around the launch of the Kindle Fire:
There is only so much audience attention to go around and as mobile gaming, tv and film watching and web browsing become possible for everyone, it is just possible that digital books will lose out*. Of course maybe the audience that moves digital will be big enough for this to not be an issue, but even so book publishers and authors will need to compete with movies, games and music much more directly and immediately than they have in the past.
The possibility then that the Kindle Fire presents is one where the dedicated device that has done so much to build the digital book market is, however distantly, headed for a quiet retirement and the publishers who think they have it all so sorted now are going to faced a changed game yet again.
So perhaps you understand why the brace of DigiTimes reports on the topic read this morning left me cold:
Amazon shipped 3.98 million Kindle Fire tablet PCs in the fourth quarter of 2011, taking up a 14% share of the global tablet PC market as well as the second position in the vendor rankings, according to market data.
Due to strong sales of Kindle Fire, Amazon has shifted its focus from e-book readers to tablet PCs, and so plans to launch a 10-inch model in the second half, instead of an 8.9-inch model projected previously, the sources revealed.
Global shipments of e-book readers are expected to reach only two million units in the first quarter of 2012, down from nine million shipped the fourth quarter of 2011, according to Digitimes Research.