eReader Target Markets & Kindle, eReader death predictions

MobileRead has a discussion about a Daily Finance article on whether ‘lack of a standard format’ and ‘old eReader models becoming obsolete’ and ‘multi-purpose devices that can do much more than read‘ will lead to the death of eReaders and the Kindle.

  • Sarah Weinman goes as far as comparing the interest in eReaders to Tickle Me Elmo and Furby. Really? You’re comparing the Kindle to a Furby?
  • She also links to a Wall Street Journal article that cautions that eReaders might be enjoying their eight-track moment.

The WSJ article is full of the sort of patronizing nonsense that eReader owners are unfortunately very familiar with –

  1. Most books are yours at least for the life of your device. Really – thanks for the misinformation and for scaring potential readers away with wrong facts.
  2. Using a LibreDigital quote that says – ‘the overwhelming majority of ebook buyers are women who read ebooks on a computer screen’.
  3. The article ends with the JesusReader and how it’ll save us because ‘it can be used for reading, watching movies, surfing the Web and other interactive tasks.’ 

eReader Target Markets that Journalists are ignoring

Journalists are making the mistake of not stepping out of their myopic mindset when they wonder what the market for eReaders is.

1. People who love to read books and do

You can claim that just 10% of the 40% of Americans who read are hard-core readers and you would still have 12 million people.

  • The better metric is to look at the size of the US books market (over $25 billion a year) and assume that eReaders could capture between 25% to 50% of that.
  • That would mean a $6.25 billion to $12.5 billion a year business.

Whether you consider books a 12 million people market or a $25 billion a year market there is a bright future for eReaders.

2. People who have to read a lot for work

There are lots of benefits eReaders provide for people who read a lot for work –

  1. eInk is better for reading (see the video in the next section).
  2. eInk doesn’t hurt the eyes. 
  3. You can take all your books and documents with you.
  4. Search across all your documents. 
  5. The screen is bigger than a phone screen.
  6. Use the Text to Speech feature to have work documents read to you while driving.

Now Kindle supports PDF – making it much more suited for a lot of professions. 

That’s a colossal market. We can’t even begin to fathom how big of a market that is.

3. School Children

Do you have kids and are worried about –

  1. Their eyes being hurt by small size of text in their textbooks.
  2. Too much reading on LCD screens.
  3. Their backpack being heavier than they are. 
  4. Them carrying around their Nintendo DS everywhere and ignoring books.

Give the Kindle a try. Textbooks are still being added – it’s far from ideal.

However, with Free Internet and Free Browsing the Kindle covers reading, reference, school books and a lot more.

This is another colossal market. It’s also a market that might get subsidized by the Government.

4. College Students 

Yet another huge market.

Amazon took a mis-step by hitting students with a Version 1 product. However, the Kindle DX is going to improve and it is going to be a better choice than netbooks and laptops.

A laptop means access to video games, chat, social networks and so many other distractions. With an eReader you get books and reference and a focus on reading.

While some analysts’ assumption that eReaders will take over the textbook market in 5 years seems overly optimistic, there’s little doubt that College Textbooks are a HUGE opportunity for eReaders.

5. People with physical weakness, arthritis, etc.

Here are two snippets from the CDC  –

An estimated 46 million adults in the United States reported being told by a doctor that they have some form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia.

By 2030, an estimated 67 million Americans ages 18 years or older are projected to have doctor-diagnosed arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the primary form of arthritis and it affects hands, feet, the spine, etc.

An eReader is great because –

  1. Its light. 
  2. You can carry all your books in the eReader.
  3. Page turns are super easy.  
  4. You don’t have to drive or walk to a store to get a book. 

Just this market alone is big enough to sustain eReaders. Especially when you consider that reading means all sorts of reading.

6. Low vision and Blind People

The Kindle, thanks to –

  1. Variable font sizes – including a largest size that is roughly 20 point size in Microsoft Word. 
  2. Read To Me – which also works on documents. 
  3. Low Price – when compared to specialized gadgets like Intel’s $1,499 reader.
  4. Landscape Mode and Words per Line setting and Line Spacing setting.

Works for a lot of low vision people and might work for some blind people. Read my Kindle FAQ for the blind for more.

The key is that even without consciously catering to low vision and blind people the Kindle does a decent job. If Amazon were to make a conscious effort they could cater to the 25.2 million people who reported experiencing vision loss.

Again, this market segment by itself could sustain eReaders.

7. People with Learning Disabilities

Let’s consider just dyslexia – Dyslexia affects 5% to 17% of the US population. The Kindle lets you –

  1. Use Text To Speech to listen to books you might not be able to read due to your learning disability.
  2. Use the font sizes and line spacing and other settings to have less words per page and make reading easier.

Consider the case of a girl who had a hard time reading and then with the Kindle could read without struggling.

Read my detailed post on Kindle, Dyslexia and learning disabilities.

Yet again, we have a market that by itself could sustain eReaders.

7 eReader target markets – each with ten million plus people

That’s 7 target markets for eReaders.

A little more thinking would reveal a lot more demographics that would love something like the Kindle i.e.

  • People who want to read and listen to audiobooks.
  • People who want sheet music.
  • Airplane pilots who want landing plates.
  • People who want cookbooks and recipes.

Why don’t Journalists see this?


  1. Please stop restricting your thinking to people who read 10 books a year.
  2. A lot of people read or want to read and that is what eReaders cater to – anyone who wants to read anything.

Next, let’s walk through a few assumptions that almost every anti-ereader or anti-kindle article makes.

Flawed Assumptions behind every anti-eReader and anti-Kindle article

It’s become a bit annoying because a lot of articles have started adopting a patronizing tone – the reason these articles feel justified in talking down to us readers is they’re caught up in a world of assumptions.

Assumption #1: The Target Market for eReaders is just people who buy a lot of books.

The previous section of this post covered all the eReader target markets that ‘Death of the eReader’ predictions are ignoring.

At this point it’s enough to say that people are getting too caught up in the launch market for eReaders – it’s not the same as the eventual market.

Assumption #2: I don’t love to read so it’s impossible that anyone could.

It doesn’t take too much effort to step out of an ‘I’ centric world and figure out that just as one person’s life revolves around ‘a device that does 20 things’ another person’s life revolves around ‘the best camera money can buy’ or perhaps even ‘the best camera for taking pictures of birds’.

It just seems a lot of journalists are still caught up in a high school mentality – they want to sit at their cafeteria table, with their clique, and believe that they’re the cool kids and everyone else is a loser.

That’s the only way to explain why the simple jump from –

  1. Love books and love to read.
  2. To – Love an eReader that lets me read books and revel in my love of reading.

Does not make sense to them.

People who love to read are free to spend thousands of dollars on books and hundreds of dollars on eReaders. They are not doing it because they’re stupid – they love to read. 

Assumption #3: People will not buy a device just for reading.

This is related to the previous assumption.

In addition to not realizing that people really love to read, a lot of journalists are proponents of the ‘good enough’ theory and the ‘value for money’ theory –

  1. They feel that if a multi-purpose device is ‘good enough’ for reading, you don’t need an eReader that is great for reading.
  2. They feel that because $259 for an eReader is too expensive in their world-view, it must be too expensive for everyone else.

There are so many flaws with these theories that you can take your pick –

  1. Most of the proponents of the ‘good enough’ theory are Apple lovers who don’t realize the hypocrisy of buying Macs and iPhones because ‘good enough is not good enough’ and then turning around and claiming people who love to read should settle for a ‘good enough’ reading experience.  
  2. Lots of people, either due to their income or their passion for reading or both, can easily afford $259 on an eReader. There are loads of people with multiple eReaders. While journalists and analysts are talking about how we need $100 eReaders, people are buying multiple ‘much too expensive’ ereaders.  
  3. We don’t think rationally when it comes to things we’re passionate about. When we love something we are willing to do whatever it takes.
  4. A multi-purpose device has to make trade-offs. Take screen size – there’s no rational way to argue that a 3.5″ screen is as good for watching a movie as a 50″ screen.

We could go on all day about the fallacies of the good enough theory. However, let’s focus on one aspect of reading that the WSJ article totally misses.

Assumption #4: There’s no difference in reading between different eInk and LCD

Take a look at this video – [wpvideo phszqYyX]

Journalists can pretend all they like that eInk screens aren’t better for reading. Truth is they are – they’re almost as good as reading print on paper.

The fact that LCD screens are not ideal for reading is one of the major reasons (along with other like lack of portability, lack of range, etc.) that eBooks never took off.

Assumption #5: In 15-30 minutes of research they can figure out all the details on eReaders.

The WSJ article is a prime example –

  1. Quoting LibreDigital on how ‘the overwhelming majority of people who read eBooks’ read eBooks on computer screens.
  2. Not taking into account Kindle and Sony Reader statistics.
  3. Assuming eInk is the same as LCD.

These are people who are not only forgetting to put aside their preconceived notions – they are also not doing their homework.

Assumption #6: Amazon can’t add ePub support in one quick update.

The whole ‘format war’ argument is incredibly short-sighted.

Here’s what will happen –

  1. If Amazon keeps winning it’ll never add ePub. Amazon’s format will be the dominant format and we have one format.
  2. If Amazon starts losing, then in a quick update Amazon will add ePub support and become compatible.

Look at what Amazon did with PDF – it was just a software update that wirelessly reached Kindles and automatically updated.

We are not in 1983 or whenever 8 tracks were around – Universal compatibility is one wireless download away.

Assumption #7: Because we don’t have figures that means eReaders must not be much of a success

It benefits me to have journalists continue to think that Kindles are not selling at all so that’s all I’m going to write here –

Dear Journalists – You are Right. Kindles are not selling at all. All 5,000 B&N Nooks that were available have been sold out. Sony didn’t even make any Daily Editions because there was no demand.

The actual figure for Kindles sold is 2.3 a day – of which 1.3 are copies of Kindle for iPhone and 1 is a copy of Kindle for PC.

Surely, any company that is doing really well would announce it to the world and also provide all the figures it could – perhaps even throw in contact information for all its customers.

Why are Journalists and Bloggers relying on Assumptions instead of Facts

After all isn’t Journalism supposed to be about fact-finding and uncovering the truth.

The truth is – it’s really hard to step out of your comfort zone and question what you’re used to and believe in.

Yesterday ran into a post where someone had written about how they finally realized that the Kindle is actually better for reading than the iPhone. That’s the cosmic twin of my experience because I finally figured out that the iPhone really is better than every other phone.

That’s what’s missing though – An inclination in people to push beyond their comfort zone and accept the truth.

That’s why the Kindle and eReaders have to do an exceptional job – if they leave any room for criticism it’ll be easy for people to dismiss them and stay within their comfort zone.

6 thoughts on “eReader Target Markets & Kindle, eReader death predictions”

  1. I think the “open format” is a joke on the uninformed. ePub with proprietary DRM (Nook) is no more “open” than Amazon. Its the DRM that by definition closes the format and locks you out of other systems. Can you read B&N ePub books on a Sony Reader? No, but that is what journalists apparently think

    1. You’re right.
      The whole DRM and open format and interoperability issue is far too complicated – and different people are willing to interpret it to their purposes.

  2. Thanks for a good counter-rebuttal to my piece. That said, it is also extremely dangerous to say something like “this is not 1983” or “this is not year X” – history has a funny and sometimes cruel way of repeating itself, especially if we are not wise enough to remember what happened in the past. Technology changes; market forces, human behavior and decision-making generally remain immutable and surprisingly static.

    With regards to e-readers – there are certainly enough factors that select against a repeat of the Video Game Crash, but to pretend such a thing isn’t possible is also foolish. The best choice doesn’t always win (Laserdiscs were great; Beta had a lot more going for it than VHS; mp3 is a horrible, loss-heavy format as compared to vinyl or even CDs; but history doesn’t agree with me in any of those instances), just as mythical and idealized choices (the Apple Tablet might be a game-changer, or it might be the biggest flop in history; who knows? It’ll be fun to see) should also inspire caution. Amazon clearly has the advantage, but will they in 12 months’ time? And what about all the avid readers put off by owning a dedicated device because they don’t have disposable income or can’t add to their credit card debt? Or wish to wait until the device in question moves beyond Apple IIe specs (or Vic-20) to their MacBook/486 moment?

    Bottom line: this is early days still. The Kindle 3 could be light-years ahead; the DX could be as well, but for college students to jump aboard the price point will have to be significantly cheaper than $489. And if you’re in a lower socio-economic bracket, this is all a moot point because nothing is affordable, but libraries are still free – at least for now.

    1. Thanks for the comment.
      Lessons from History are certainly not to be ignored.

      Is there a chance eReaders get derailed – yes. Is it probable – not in my opinion.

      It’s good to have a lot of discussion around it as it often brings up new ideas.

  3. I think the whole ebook readers not selling is absurd. Fact is it ia such a new market. When the iPhone first came out, no one and I mean no one could have predicted the people would shell out $600 for a cell phone.

    But they did!

    And in droves!

    As you have pointed out many times, there is a market for high end gadgets and ebook readers fit into that category.

    People who love to read and want to do so in a premium fashion will (and have) dolled out whatever they want to get that premium reading experience.

    I read the WSJ article and was laughing the whole time, as IMHO – it was really way off base.

    Another ballpark great article. Cheers!

  4. To say that ebooks are better than computer screens at readability is a joke. I can agree they are just as good for standard text only books and I use my Kindle DX a lot for reading books but anyone who’se tried to take a wide variety of PDF documents that are color or greyscale to a Kindle will find the experience very disappointing.

    I am constantly having to switch back to my computer because the PDF file is just not readable on a Kindle.

    And talking about using a kindle for textbooks will have the same problem. When is the last time you saw a textbook that did not have pictures, charts and graphs. All of this display inadequately on a Kindle.

    And of course there is the slow page turning. This is fine for reading a book because you’re not flipping through it looking for reference material but for a text book, where you are constantly flipping back looking for something, the slow page speed is a killer.

    I’d kill for a Kindle size device with a screen that has the legibility of an iPhone. It would solve all of the problems I have with my DX. Of course the battery life would be terrible which would be it’s biggest problem.

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