While some of the ‘old guard’, the bibliophiles and paper fetishists, are still arguing over whether an e-reader provides an adequate reading experience when compared with good ‘ol fashioned bound paper volumes, the e-reader industry itself is facing more pressing matters. Its number one concern is whether a device such as an e-reader, which is dedicated to one function, can survive long in a gadget-laden market where devices are becoming increasingly multi-functional. If a product such as Apples Ipad is a platform for web-browsing, gaming, music and movies and e-reading, will consumers still require another device? Amazons Kindle– the most popular, and some say the best, e-reader on the market currently, offers some significant features. These features are defining elements of the product, aimed at securing its place in the market, and include high contrast E-ink screens (which replicate the look of ink on paper) and their long battery lives. Yet, the fact remains that they are for reading and nothing else.
For ‘serious’ readers it can be surmised that the Kindle (and like products) do indeed offer the superior reading experience- but for how long? The technology of tablet computers is likely to improve significantly in future models, meaning that the superior reading experience of e-readers is unlikely to stay far enough ahead of their tablet counterparts for consumers to be able to justify expenditure on two products. For those to whom reading or having a reader is of some (but not primary) importance the choice will be easy enough. To those for whom reading is of primary importance, the choice will doubtless be more difficult, but upon weighing up the various factors I suspect more will fall in the tablet camp than that of the e-reader. Businesses and educational institutions will likely follow suit. Even libraries, society’s home of reading, may struggle to dedicate themselves to single function devices in a world where (as librarians are acutely aware) information provision is a multi-format activity.
This leaves the providers of e-readers with an uncertain future. Three options seem likely for a company such as Amazon. Either they expand their readers into multi-functional devices, or they withdraw from the market and focus on the provision of e-books and related applications, or face dwindling profit margins and the same persistent battle for relevancy which likely faces the traditional print publishing industry.