I once read a terrific book called How to Lie with Statistics. (Archive.org seems to think it’s in the public domain—or, at least, it has it available for download in e-book formats, and I highly recommend reading it.) It was written in 1954, but it still ought to be required reading in every classroom, given how statistics and statistical charts have gotten more and more popular in the information age—and so has their misuse.
For example, look at the above chart. If you don’t read it carefully, and you pay attention to the panic-inducing headline, you could be excused for thinking that it shows a disastrous “decline” in the sales of tablets. But it…more sort of doesn’t. The chart isn’t showing the amount of sales, it’s showing the amount of sales growth.
(Really, “growth” bar graphs ought to be outlawed. They play on people’s assumption that the bars represent fixed amounts relative to each other, not the amount that’s added to those fixed amounts. If they don’t know to pay attention, most people are likely to interpret the latter as the former, and start throwing around words like “decline” that really aren’t warranted at all. Even the makers of the chart did it!)
What it means is that, instead of selling more and more tablets every year, tablet sales have leveled off. For the last few years, more and more tablets were being sold every year, but now slightly fewer tablets were sold this year than last year—but still, nearly as many tablets were sold this year as last year.
If you think about it, this isn’t exactly shocking. After all, it was only within the last few years that hardware manufacturers were able to invent tablets that were actually worth having. The iPad was the first of the new breed of truly good tablets, but it was soon followed by Android devices. While early iPads sold really well, the real heyday of the iPad and Android tablet only truly started in 2011 or so. Once there actually were tablets worth having, of course people who thought they might be worth having were going to buy some.
Since then, good tablets got cheaper and cheaper to the point where pretty much everybody who could want a tablet went ahead and got one. The market is now saturated, so of course growth is off. (That being said, I’ll be interested to see what the Q4 sales would look like, given that this is when the $50 Fire was introduced. I’ll bet it accounts for a bit of a bump in growth!)
It’s no cause for alarm, though. Almost all of that growth accounted for on the left of the chart is still present in the amount of sales that are going on now. Tablets haven’t stopped selling, they’ve just stopped selling more and more every year.
We’ve tended to see the same sort of panic over the last couple of years about e-book sales growth, and for largely the same reason. At least up until the publishers jacked the prices and changed the game, e-books hadn’t stopped selling well. They’d just stopped selling more and more, because just about all the new readers who would get interested in e-books had gotten interested in e-books.
And how could that not happen? There are a finite number of people in the world. Sooner or later, any market for a new product will saturate. Our global population may be growing, but it’s not growing as fast as tablet or e-book sales!
If anything, the fact that both tablet and e-book sales have reached the point where growth has stopped ought to be good news for us. It means we’re living in a fully-saturated, fully-mature market for these items—they’ve finally “arrived.” They’re an accepted part of society, to the point where so many of them have been sold that most people no longer need to buy new ones. They’re not a new and puzzling thing anymore—they’re just part of everyday life. That’s not a “decline”—that’s equilibrium.