E Ink Chief Marketing Officer Sriram PeruvembaLast weekend, Reuters ran an interesting analysis-style think piece titled “E-readers grapple with a future on the shelf.” The article revolves around the idea that because tablets have grown so popular, so quickly, the lowly e-reader has essentially becoming a nearly outdated gadget. Tablets, to put it plainly, have finally replaced e-readers, once and for all.

From the article’s lede:

Amidst our growing love affair with the tablet, spare a thought for its increasingly shelfbound sibling: the e-reader.

Take Taiwan’s E Ink Holdings Inc, which makes most of the monochrome displays for devices such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. After five years of heady growth during which shipments rose 100-fold, it got a jolt at the end of 2011 when monthly revenues dropped 91 percent in two months.

“The bottom fell out of the market,” says E Ink Chief Marketing Officer Sriram Peruvemba.

The article goes on to suggest that, largely due to the overwhelming popularity of the iPad (and presumably, the many Android-powered tablets that have followed it), the e-reader just isn’t all that necessary anymore. It’s been replaced, the article suggests, by something that’s more popular, more practical, and just plain better.

Products that use E Ink technology

Products that use E Ink technology

Personally, I love the fact that my dedicated e-reader (a Special Offers Kindle 4) is, in fact, dedicated only to e-reading, and nothing else. I know many of you feel the same. But because I don’t own a tablet of any sort, I’m not really in a position to discuss the superiority of reading on an e-reader over, say, a Nexus 7 or a Kindle Fire. Not that one person’s lone opinion necessarily even matters; the Reuters article, after all, backs up its argument with solid numbers.

Again, from the article:

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that of those Americans over 30 who read e-books, less than half do so on an e-reader. For those under 30, the number falls to less than a quarter.

Analysts have cut forecasts, sometimes dramatically. IHS iSuppli predicted last December there would be 43 million e-readers shipped in 2014. When it revised those numbers last month, the estimate was lowered by two thirds.

By contrast, Morgan Stanley in June doubled its estimates for 2013 tablet shipments, predicting 216 million compared with its February 2011 forecast of 102 million.

Incidentally, the Reuters article isn’t entirely a ‘tablets versus e-readers’ rant, even though that’s probably how I’m making it sound. As the piece goes on, it morphs into a business journalism-style article about the E Ink Corporation, the recent fortunes of which are described thusly: “After five years of heady growth during which shipments rose 100-fold, [E Ink Holdings] got a jolt at the end of 2011 when monthly revenues dropped 91 percent in two months.”

And there you have it. Because while statistics from the Pew Research Center or IHS iSuppli studies can be easily skewed to fit just about any point of view, you can’t really argue with the fact that E Ink’s “monthly revenues dropped 91 percent in two months” at the end of 2011. Of course, as some pundits (as well as some readers here) have suggested in the past, E Ink’s swiftly dropping sales figures may have less to do with the overall popularity of the e-reader as a device, and more to do with the fact that everyone who wants an e-reader already has one.

Who knows?

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