Apparently eReaders are not as endangered as the iPod Touch

We have another survey of questionable origins being used as evidence to support the supposed demise of eReaders. This one however cuts both ways. It’s a Morgan Stanley/Alphawise survey from March 2010.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Surveys

This is a survey that questioned customers and collated results from consumers who planned on buying an iPad. Note that these are customers ‘planning on buying an iPad’ so it’s even more unreliable than normal surveys.

The results were –

  1. 44% of US consumers who were planning on buying an iPad were buying it instead of a notebook computer or a netbook. Of those over half (24% chunk out of 44% chunk) were going to buy an iPad instead of an Apple Macbook.  
  2. 41% of US consumers planning on buying an iPad chose it instead of an iPod Touch. 
  3. 28% of US consumers planning on buying an iPad chose an iPad instead of an eReader. 
  4. 27% of US consumers were planning on buying an iPad instead of a desktop. Of those over half (14% chunk) were going to buy an iPad instead of a Mac.

Those figures add up to more than 100% (140% to be precise) because consumers probably considered 2 or 3 choices. This is interesting because it means people were even less serious about reading – If you want a device to read on and you’re deciding between a laptop, a Kindle, and an iPad you’re less likely to be the typical eReader owner.

Is this survey correct?

To be frank it’s a bit of a joke. Customers who are planning to buy something can’t really be used as an accurate measure. We also don’t know how many people were surveyed – How convenient to not mention that or any other details such as the wording of the questions.  

You also have the fact that the numbers add up to much more than 100% because customers were deciding between multiple choices.

If this survey is an accurate gauge of user behavior

We get some fascinating things –

  1. There’s a lot of cannibalization. People planning to buy an iPad chose it over Macbooks (24%), iPod Touches (41%), and Macs (14%). There’s overlap – However, at least 41% of the time these are sales that would probably go to other Apple devices.  
  2. Only 28% of people planning to buy an iPad were considering eReaders. Plus there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t have gotten an iPod touch or a netbook instead of an eReader if the iPad wasn’t available (and they haven’t bought anything yet). 
  3. Only 17% of people planning to buy an iPad were considering handheld video games.
  4. Only 20% were considering notebooks and netbooks.

Isn’t it interesting that the three categories of devices supposed to be most endangered by the iPad (handheld video games, eReaders, netbooks) have such low figures (17%, 28%, and some portion of 20%) while Apple’s own products have much higher figures. 

Not only is the iPad a giant iPod Touch it’s also a giant iPod Touch killer.

The rumored death of Netbooks

Netbooks had a year over year growth rate varying between 180% and 641% in the last 6 months of 2009. The growth rate is now rather low – it fell to just 5% in April 2010, and was never above 68% (January). 

This is being attributed to the iPad. However, it’s worth considering a few things –

  1. It’s probably the unknown i.e. not knowing what’s coming out, that caused a lot of the drop.
  2. If you’re selling 20 million plus netbooks a year it’s unrealistic to expect another year of growth rates between 180% and 641%.
  3. You have to compare total netbook sales with total iPad sales. Since iPad is starting from zero comparing growth rates is rather unfair.  

It’s typical Apple marketing to take a figure like declining growth rate and focus on that. It’d be much less fun to point out that Netbooks outsold the iPad even after all the hype and publicity.

While the iPad did take away a chunk of the netbook market we have to wait and see how big that chunk was and  whether it was the promise of the iPad that stalled sales as opposed to the actual device stealing sales.  

What devices do people who love reading consider?

We’re getting quite a list in the survey – iPod Touches, netbooks, notebooks, eReaders, iPads, desktop PCs.

Do people who read books really consider all of those devices as reading devices?

That’s a good question and it hints at why Apple is pushing the iPad as an eReader. Since it’s a very new market, is not very well-defined, and eInk hasn’t evolved in years, the eReader market is ripe for taking over. All you have to do is change the concept of what an eReader is from ‘a device built for reading’ to ‘a device you can read on’.

That’s exactly what Apple is doing and its smart strategy. It is going to lead to less reading because people with dedicated readers will read more books (it’s not like you can watch a movie instead). However, it sells iPads so Apple will obviously paint it as the best eReader available.

Kindle 3 and Nook 2 and the next generation of Sony Readers have to ramp up their offerings or they might end up losing sales to a device that isn’t even an eReader.

Perfect example of the chasm between Press and Readers

At Techmeme there is a small amount of buzz about the new Kindle 2.5 upgrade. It’s revealing to see how the Press interpret the upcoming upgrade. 

The titles of the articles talking about Kindle 2.5 tell a story –

Kindle Software Update Adds Twitter, PDF Zoom, Sharper Fonts

Kindle jumps onto social network bandwagon with Twitter and Facebook updates

Kindle firmware 2.5 imminent: Twitter/Facebook Integration, ebook Collections, more

Amazon goes social with new Kindle update

Kindle Update adds Facebook and Twitter Interaction, Password …

Amazon Kindle gets Facebook and Twitter updates

The articlesthemselves reveal even more.

The Press fixate on what they think are important features

Kindle owners are ecstatic about folders and yet most of the articles only mention Folders in passing. One article even manages to avoid mentioning Folders completely.

It was the first line item and it’s the most crucial addition – How can you miss it?

Only a few talk about sharper fonts and better readability. Similarly, the improvement in PDF support is only mentioned in passing. It’s as if the Press can’t wait to talk about what they feel is the only real improvement.

The Press is fixated on the Facebook and Twitter updates feature because that’s what they understand.

Basically, none of the bloggers took the time to figure out what the update means to readers and people who own the device. They just wrote it from their own perspective.

Wired finds it hard to accept Kindle’s improving

Gadget Lab at Wired writes –

Amazon has updated the Kindle’s software to v2.5 and added both useful and questionable new features

The new features fall into two categories: social, and not-stupid.

These seem to spoil the very reason I use the Kindle to read: lack of distraction. When I read on my iPod I’m all, like, ADD?

Wired manage to take a very good Kindle 2.5 upgrade and make it seem bad.

Perfect Example of the Press not understanding eReaders or readers

Not a single writer made the effort to see what the upgrade is like – Yet they pass judgement on it.

This is Charlie Sorrel’s defence for criticizing the upgrade without even taking a look at it –

I can’t test anything yet, as the Lady has made off with my Kindle today …

I’ll bring you a full report as soon as I have the update in my hands

So you mean to tell us you wrote off the Kindle 2.5 upgrade without even taking a look at it? That you have no idea of how the features work and what the social features are like and yet you classified the social features as distracting and the other features as not-stupid.


We have 6 articles about the Kindle 2.5 upgrade and not a single one of them has actually tried it out. 6 articles written by people who haven’t taken the 5 seconds needed to adjust their perspective and look at things through the eyes of a reader or an eReader owner.

This sort of crucification of the Kindle and of eReaders has been happening since 2007. Some things never change.

eReader stories and how they morph

It’s really interesting to see two recent eReader related stories and how the Press and Blogs take liberties with them and morph them into almost unrecognizable forms.

Nook selling more than Kindle?

DigiTimes wrote about how manufacturers shipped more Nooks out than Kindles in March. While there could be lots of reasons for that, DigiTimes chose to assume it was demand picking up.

Here is what more shipments might mean –

  1. Demand for nook was more. 
  2. B&N had to stock all its stores.
  3. B&N anticipated more demand due to its TV, print, and radio advertising campaign.
  4. B&N expected the new update with browser to cause more demand. 

Notice that it’s not guaranteed that Nook was selling more or will sell more than Kindle. Even DigiTimes cleverly manage to talk only about shipments while implying that Nook sold more than Kindle (in their title and by talking about demand).

Personally I fell for it. So did a lot of the Press.

Here are the types of articles being written –

  1. Nook outsells Kindle in First Month of Sale. This is an obviously wrong title. You’d expect better from Fast Company.
  2. Nook outsells Kindle in March. A more accurate title would be – Analyst says more shipments of Nook (Nook might be selling more).  
  3. eBook war heating up – Nook passes Kindle.
  4. Nook outsold Kindle in March, forcing Amazon to change tactics. From an Apple Blog. 

The claims some of these articles make are ridiculous. Fast Company take the cake by mistakenly calling it the Nook’s first month of sales.

The iPad might be bad for sleeping story

This is a weaker but still interesting example.

It’s amusing that it’s the exact opposite of the ‘eInk and LCD are equally good for reading’ story that the Press were drumming up a little while back. One article in the LA Times and in the Press’ mind the iPad goes from ‘as good as eInk readers’ to ’causes insomnia’.

It started with an LA Times article that said Reading on the iPad before bedtime can affect sleep habits. While it did quote sleep disorder experts it didn’t quote any studies or scientific evidence.

Here are some of the things it said –

Light-emitting devices, including cellphones and yep, the iPad, tell the brain to stay alert.

Because users hold those devices so close to their face, staring directly into the light, the effect is amplified compared with, say, a TV across the room …

The take-home lesson is that insomnia and electronics gadgets emitting light should not [be] mixed before bedtime

Kindle is better for your sleep.

The articles basically took the ‘Reading on the iPad can affect sleep habits’ theme and morphed it into ‘iPad is going to kill your sleep’. Articles and themes included –

  1. iPad might cause insomnia.
  2. iPad kills sleeping hormone.
  3. iPad definitely causes insomnia.  
  4. Are you sleep deprived? Turn off your iPad.  You have to admit it’s quite a jump to go from ‘iPad might cause insomnia’ to ‘if you have insomnia the iPad caused it’.

While it’s a relief to find any articles that don’t worship the JesusTablet it’s getting a bit unfair when the iPad is suddenly portrayed as the main cause of insomnia.

Why does the Press like extremes?

Think about the eInk vs LCD storylines.

The Press either want to play up stories that claim LCD is just as good as eInk and the iPad’s screen destroys eReader advantages or they want to write about how the iPad will kill your sleep and should be avoided at all costs.

Then look at all the eReader coverage – It’s always about one eReader killing another or some non-reading device killing eReaders.

In their quest to find and write interesting eReader stories the Press are cheating by spicing up the stories themselves. To make things worse they aren’t eReader experts and they make lots of fundamental mistakes.