Are Times Getting Harder For E-Readers?

The e-reader market has experienced a boom over the last couple of years, but recent events indicate that the herd may be starting to thin a little. Both Sony and Kobo are struggling with their current business models, and Amazon’s recent acquisition of the book community site ‘GoodReads’ and the development of their voice recognition system Ivona demonstrates that the online giant is establishing its position as king of the e-reader herd. This could be electronic Darwinism at work – with those who are unwilling or unable to develop rapidly struggling to keep up, no matter how ‘big’ they are.

So what has sent Kobo and Sony on a downward slide? Well, for Kobo it was an over reliance on its social networking contacts and a very limited research and development program. Put simply, Kobo stood still technologically, while its rivals developed new and better forms of e-readers that attracted a bigger share of the market.

The same can be said of Sony, who has seen its market share of e-readers drop quite dramatically in recent months. Take for example, the figures for Canada – a fairly average e-reader marketplace. In 2011, Sony’s market share for e-readers sold in the country was 28%. In 2012 that figure had dropped to 18% and in the first quarter of 2013 it had slipped even further down to 12%. That’s over half its Canadian market evaporated in the space of just under two years. The reason? Once again, it’s a lack of new devices.

Previously, Sony regularly released at least three new e-readers every year. However, in the last two years there has only been one release. A block by Google on anyone with a Sony buying any books from the Play store when everything was shifted over into Google Play last year didn’t help matters either, rendering Sony e-readers virtually useless if you wanted to download books from Google Play.

e-readers marketplace

How To Keep Up

So the bottom line for both Kobo and Sony is that evolution is going to be key to survival, especially in the technological world of e-readers. Users don’t just want a bog-standard e-reader – they want ‘features’, a user experience that makes them want to keep using the product and plenty of choice when it comes to where they purchase their reading material from. And as with all forms of online entertainment, there needs to be a strong element of community involved with a product, so online forums dedicated to the Kobo and Sony readers might just help to pool support.

Investing in technology that includes e-ink format is also a must. Not only will it allow Sony in particular to start generating interest in its e-readers by launching new versions, but it will also appeal to users who want lighter, more power-efficient readers that still retain the same tactile experience. The introduction of colour e-ink will, in the future, also mark a big step forward for e-readers, and anyone who is on that particular bandwagon when it rolls out to market is going to do very well indeed.

Perhaps, as with all competitive marketplaces, it was inevitable that some e-readers would fall by the wayside. The technology has to continually evolve to remain relevant in the eyes of a fickle public, and if others want to keep up with the herd then they are going to have to learn to adapt if they want to survive.

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