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There is a growing negative sentiment towards e-readers

29 May 2018

From Good Ereader:

There are many mainstream online media outlets that proclaim that the e-reader has lost its shine and that the hardware is in a state of decline.  The Barnes and Noble Nook is cited as the leading example of an e-reader that was once relevant, but not anymore.  Are people no longer buying new e-readers anymore and reading on their smartphones and tablets? Is it simply the case of  e-readers not being trendy or hip anymore?

Tom’s Hardware believes that e-readers are catering to a diminishing audience. “More than one-quarter of U.S. adults read no books in 2016; of the 74% who did, some read a single book “in part.” The average U.S. reader finishes from four to 12 books per year, depending on whether you want to go with the median or the mean. The number of people who read, and the amount that they read, have both been steadily decreasingsince the early ’80s.”

Only 19% of U.S. adults owned an e-reader in 2015, and the numbers didn’t vary much by sex, location or age. Twenty-seven percent of affluent individuals surveyed owned an e-reader, and they were the most enthusiastic buyers by far. Compare and contrast: 68% of U.S. adults owned a smartphone in the same year, and 87% of affluent individuals did, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

. . . .

The Barnes and Noble Nook has garnered the most negative sentiment about their e-reader unit. Fortune said “As for its once large Nook e-reader business, Barnes & Noble at least stopped losing money on it, but sales fell 28% as device prices fell. Nook, launched in 2009, held its own against Amazon’s Kindle for a while. And Barnes & Noble, which has lost about $1.3 billion in the last six years on the Nook business, says Nook is essential to feeding its e-book and online business. But given the performance of Nook, and the resources it siphons away, one analyst wondered whether it was time to pull the plug on what was once a $933 million a year business. Nook had sales of $146.5 million last fiscal year. ”

“The fact the business is shrinking by so much demonstrates it is a very ineffective platform,” Neil Saunders, Managing Director of GlobalData Retail. “B&N would be better to scrap NOOK entirely and focus its efforts in developing a better online platform and apps to support its business.”

. . . .

Arnaud Nourry, chief executive of Hachette Livre, made the comment to the Indian news site Scroll.in in a wide-ranging interview about Hachette’s future in India, which also touched on digital publishing. According to Nourry, the “plateau, or rather slight decline”, that ebook sales have seen in the US and the UK in recent years is “not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format. The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience,” said Nourry.

This lack of creativity is partly publishers’ lack of digital know-how, according to Nourry. “We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital. We’ve tried. We’ve tried enhanced or enriched ebooks – didn’t work. We’ve tried apps, websites with our content – we have one or two successes among a hundred failures. I’m talking about the entire industry. We’ve not done very well.  “I’m convinced there is something we can invent using our content and digital properties beyond ebooks, but I reached the conclusion that we don’t really have the skills and talents in our companies, because publishers and editors are accustomed to picking a manuscript and creating a design on a flat page. They don’t really know the full potential of 3-D and digital,” he said.

“Part of the positive pressure that digital has exerted on the industry is that publishers have rediscovered their love of the physical,” says James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones.”

“It was new and exciting,” says Cathryn Summerhayes, a literary agent at Curtis Brown. “But now they look so clunky and unhip, don’t they? I guess everyone wants a piece of trendy tech and, unfortunately, there aren’t trendy tech reading devices and I don’t think people are reading long-form fiction on their phones. I think your average reader would say that one of the great pleasures of reading is the physical turning of the page. It slows you down and makes you think.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader

PG suggests that sales of ereaders by themselves don’t matter to both traditional and indie publishing nearly as much as sales of devices capable of functioning as ereaders. Of course this includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. He realizes that small and portable is preferable, but the more devices that can be used to read an ebook, the better is is for people trying to sell ebooks.

PG further suggests that growth in Amazon Fire and Kindle Ereader sales are a better single-company proxy for future ebook sales than Nook is. Barnes & Noble is circling the drain and people who pay the slightest attention to the book world and know even a little bit about tech markets understand that the Nook is a classic example of a device that’s going to be orphaned in the near future.

Any day now, Leonard Riggio is going to tell whoever the president of Barnes & Noble is this week that the Nook business has to be wound down because there’s not enough cash to support continued purchases of Nook devices. To the extent the Nook store is not already running on autopilot, Leonard will tell the CEO to try to sell it to somebody in China or put it on autopilot.

PG enjoyed the quote from a Curtis Brown agent trying to launch an unhip ereader meme suggesting everybody knows it’s way cooler to lug a hardcover book around because “think”.


37 Comments to “There is a growing negative sentiment towards e-readers”

  1. Mr. K has always reminded me of those college debate teams where you are assigned one side of an issue, and you have to argue it regardless of whether or not you actually believe it.

    Really. This is one of those “What do I write about today…” blog posts.

  2. I like how they can’t seem to understand that one doesn’t ‘need’ a dedicated ebook reader to read an ebook – one of those smartphones or even my computer screen will do …

    Then there was their other bits, B&N sunk the Nook themselves, and Hachette and the rest of the qig5 don’t ‘want’ ebooks to do well – to the point they went agency.

    As far as that idiot ‘literary agent’? I smell sour grapes because there is no need for any ‘literary agents’ for those self-publishing – most of which we see sold as – wait for it – ebooks.

    (I’m guessing the OP was still hug over from three days of drinking and this way the best they could come up with to pitch whatever spin their boss wanted …)

    • I have numerous e-readers, and they are great when I’m out of the house or lying down on the couch. I often find I read on the Chromebook at home: 15 inch screen and my aging eyes like the BIG LETTERS. 😀

      I have an iPhone, and I’ve used it to read my Kindle books, but it’s still much more comfy to use a 7 or 8 inch Kindle Fire.

  3. I read on my smartphone now. Never thought I would, but it’s more convenient since I always have my phone with me. I don’t think my kindle has even been charged up for months. So, the question that matters is what’s going on with the sale of ebooks?

    Besides, I sell ebooks, not e-readers. That’s what matters to me. 🙂

    • one nice think about the kindle app on an android phone is the (sometimes hard to find) setting that lets you use the volume control buttons to page forward and back. You can hold most phones in your hand and page forward easily with your thumb or index finger on those buttons, a feature that no dedicated e-reader offers. I have a voyage and the bezel controls are not as easy to use.

      • Patricia Sierra

        I have two Voyages* (one’s a spare in case the other one dies) and have never used the bezel controls. Turned that feature off on day one. Just have to tap the lower right corner to turn the page.

        My daughter is doing most her reading on her phone despite having a Voyage. She showed me a page from one of her books and I would have needed a magnifying glass to read it. Ugh. My eyes are too old for that. Also, don’t like backlights … top-lit works for me.

        *That’s how unhip I am.

  4. E-readers don’t go bad. Once you have one you don’t need to replace it frequently, ex. I have a Kindle Paperwhite which works perfectly fine after years of use. Why would I buy another one? (I do have a Kindle Fire too, because I’m a gadget girl, but I’d say the video viewing abilities of the Fire outperform its function, for me, as an e-eader.)

    The Paperwhite provides a better reading experience than reading on my smartphone, *but my phone is more convenient. It’s with me pretty much all the time, and I don’t forget to charge it, which is sometimes the case with my Kindle.

    So I end up reading a lot on my phone. I’m typing this on my phone.

    “Super readers” are still reading a lot. Romance readers in particular seem to love ebooks and many read a book a day.

  5. Clickbait.

  6. Felix J. Torres

    The Nook has already been outsourced.
    The hardware has been made by Netronix since at least 2015 and software and support since 2016:


    As for the OP, trusting Good Ereader on anything is not a good play.
    Most times you’re better off assuming the opposite of whatever they claim. Especially when the primary source is Hachette, the weakest of the BPHs and the most anti-ebook of the five.

  7. For those of us paying attention to context (admittedly, marketing dorks would like to believe that nobody EVER pays attention to context), one of the reasons I’ve never owned a dedicated eReader — and never will — is the combination of “closed system” and “reports back to the provider.”

    I’m a wide-ranging reader, In a wide range of formats, and even languages and coding-sets (there are both left-to-right and right-to-left materials in frequent use on my various devices… not to mention things with real footnotes and meaningful — not just decorative — illustrations). Instead of even considering these as possibilities (such as, say, making “landscape mode” something less than painful), the makers of dedicated e-book readers put their effort into stupid page-turning animations and sound effects and background textures. They’re not helped by the idiocy of the file formats — and their uniform hostility to the interplay between “form” and “content” — but that could have been overcome.

    What’s worse, for me, is the silent “reporting back” and implicit “we know what’s in your library” aspects of the readers and their closed-system/load-over-wireless-only designs. I’m old enough to remember the controversy over Robert Bork’s video-store rental records; apparently, everyone involved either doesn’t know or doesn’t care (or, worse yet, thinks that’s a good thing because they know NOTHING about the ancestry of “data analytics”). There’s even a passing reference to this as a problematic investigative method in All the President’s Men, let alone the American Library Association’s semirebellion against the Patriot Act’s corresponding provision!

    Basically, dedicated e-book readers have an underlying meme that “we have to make this attractive to those who are probably not heavy readers anyway and don’t care about privacy.” That’s not me. That’s why I have always read e-books on general-purpose devices, in “closed library” mode, loaded from a chip/USB cable and not a wireless connection.

    • I have a kindle that’s never ‘phoned home’ after the very first setup. (I’m guessing you smartphone might be sending more to the mother-ship than you might know – never mind all those apps.)

      Wi-fi’s off of course, saves my battery for reading. Amazon gives out that modi converter for free, so I can convert near anything to side-load to my kindle.

      There are some things that don’t read well on e-readers, but then they don’t read well on similar sized smartphones.

      Your mileage may vary as the kids say these days …

    • Terrence OBrien

      What’s worse, for me, is the silent “reporting back” and implicit “we know what’s in your library” aspects of the readers

      Implicit? They sold me the books. Sure they know. Doesn’t matter if I use an iPhone of Kindle.

    • I’ve used a Kobo ereader (not the same one) for many years. It’s never connected — I sideload everything via Calibre.

      The Kobo ereader is the only one I know of that exposes enough of its software that you can set up categories/shelves on it directly from the loading program (Calibre).

      I push 5-10 books a week out of that thing and wouldn’t dream of using a smartphone instead — too heavy, too battery consumptive, too small.

    • Patricia Sierra

      “…the makers of dedicated e-book readers put their effort into stupid page-turning animations and sound effects and background textures.”

      What? I started with a Rocket Book, went to a Sony, and have been through several generations of the Kindle. None of that applies to any of them.

  8. Comparing e-readers (or multi-purpose devices like the Fire) to cell phones is disingenuous. Cell phones are a fashion statement for a big chunk of their customer base – they can be depended upon to buy the latest thing every couple of years. There are very few Fire buyers that must have the very latest – the one they bought a few years ago still works just fine.

  9. Honestly, I saw that they were talking about the Nook as evidence of e-reader decline and just concluded this was an Onionesque attempt at humor. It did make me giggle.

  10. I also don’t ‘need’ to have more than two sets of clothes (one to wear, one to wash). But like most modern consumers, I have a wardrobe full. It’s called consumer choice.

  11. Terrence OBrien

    One of the reasons I still have my seven year old iPhone 4s is its size. iPhones keep getting bigger. The new ones are big enough to comfortably read. The text display area is almost the same as my Kindle. I doubt sales of dedicated readers tell us much.

  12. I started out with a Nook and ended up going to Amazon because B&N updated their site in such a way that it made it really hard to buy an ebook. I had a number of magazine subscriptions, and they literally had a link to cancel it that went nowhere. It was not customer friendly at all.

    And the Big Five have definitely screwed up ebooks. From the reader perspective, it feels like they feel publishing an ebook is competition for the paper versions of the books. They do their best to discourage buying the books with ebook prices higher than the hardback versions. I want to study Travis McGee, a book that was published 50 years ago. It’s available in ebook format. Go look them up. Those books are $12 apiece! It’s like the publishers don’t really want to sell them.

    • Felix J. Torres

      They don’t.
      The BPHs don’t want their authors to see ebooks as a major market because they (correctly) feel they’ll want bigger royalties or, worse, decide to go Indie.
      Even the lapdog Authors Guild started to mildly yip…

      Besides, they can’t remainder ebooks to cut authors royalties even more. pbooks give the BPHs more ways to screw authors.

  13. Let me fix that for you:

    There is a growing negative sentiment towards literary agents

    • Come on now – that’s not true at all …

      Last time I heard someone mention a ‘literary agent’ the other guy say, “A ‘who’?” 😉

      (Can’t be negative if they aren’t even noticed/cared about/for …)

  14. From day 1, Amazon has constantly made changes and improvements to their e-readers and their reading apps. Downloading books has always been easy. My first e-reader was the first Kindle.
    I also bought a Sony reader. There were never any significant changes. The second Sony reader I bought had wi-fi to download library books. The process was slow and cumbersome. Not to mention how I abhor Adobe DRM. Downloading books was clunky and annoying to only be able to read on one device.
    My experience with the Nook was also very negative. If my only experience with e-reading was with the Nook, I can see why B & N customers gave up on e-reading.
    The biggest reason for the slowing down of the growth in e-books with the major publishers is their inflated prices. These critics really need to try a Kindle and also the Kindle app. Or maybe they have and that’s why it isn’t mentioned…they can’t think of anything to criticize.

  15. A couple of years ago I stumbled across a Kickstarter project that aimed to add a modular ereader to the back of just about any mobile phone. The idea was that you’d use the front of the phone as normal but would have the entire realestate of the back for proper reading. I still like that idea but haven’t heard/seen anything more about it.

    Getting back to the article, the reality is that ebooks aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much the Big Five/Four/Three…wish they would. What we read those ebooks on, however, will probably change enormously as the tech continues to evolve.

  16. Thank you for proving my point. If you are really he, you’ve failed to capitalize your own name. You don’t realize “archetypal” is the word you’re trying to use–there’s no such word as “arch-typical.” You call indie authors trash right here, again proving your bias. “With shit a website” is, shall we say, an…interesting…grammatical construction. “Its” should be “it’s,” so you apparently don’t know the difference between a contraction and a possessive.

    So, you’ve managed to make four distinct errors of writing within two sentences, yet you claim your work is “written well.” You gave me a good chuckle–especially when you refer to yourself in the third person.

  17. […] Are e-readers becoming less “cool”? […]

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