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If eReaders Are Dead Then So Are Film Cameras. And Horse Riding. And Fountain Pens. And Digital Cameras. And Lots of Other Stuff

Last week Tom’s Hardware published a piece which used flawed assumptions to ask whether the ereader was dead:

Yes, reading now is a little bit different than it was even a decade ago. While print books are doing surprisingly well, bigger and better smartphones have given e-books a second life. After 10 years of uncertainty, it seems that we finally live in a world where readers of both print and digital books can live in peace with each other. Neither one is going away anytime soon.

And yet, there may be a tragic undercurrent to this otherwise-happy story. While e-books are doing just fine, the fate of the devices dedicated exclusively to those e-books is much murkier. E Ink readers, like the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook are much less widespread than they used to be — and arguably, much less necessary.

Ten years ago, the Kindle was essentially the only game in town for e-books. But now, it’s just as easy to read on your computer, your tablet, your phone — or even all three, thanks to cross-compatible apps. (It’s worth noting, too, that the dangers of reading on LCD screens have been greatly exaggerated.)

In a world where convenience is king and delayed gratification is a dirty phrase, is there any room for a device that does only one thing and can’t do that thing nearly as fast as the supercomputer in your pocket?

This post inspired a discussion over at MobileRead and a rehashing at Teleread. I don’t plan to get involved other than to point out the fundamental flaw in the question.

This debate is predicated on the assumption that if the ereader is less popular now than in the past then it must be dead. The flaw becomes obvious once we apply the same assumption to other technologies.

Take film cameras, for example. They have largely been supplanted by digital cameras, so film cameras must be dead. And yet you can still buy film cameras because people are still using them.

Or, horseback riding. Horses were a fundamental part of our transportation system, but they’ve been replaced by cars and other vehicles, so horseback riding must be dead. And yet you can still buy saddles, and buy or rent horses; people are still using them. *

And then there are fountain pens, which have largely been replaced by ballpoint and other mass-produced pens.

And yet you can still buy a fountain pen.

With a little work I could go on and list a dozen other examples of tech that, based on the logic of this argument, are just as dead as ereaders, and yet are still being manufactured and used to this day.

Can you really say something is dead if that is the case?


image by petter palander

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Maria (BearMountainBooks) February 27, 2018 um 10:15 am

Well, my film camera sure isn’t worth much. And I no longer use it. I see film cameras for sale all the time. On ebay, you’d be lucky to get 20 bucks–for a namebrand, really nice one. (Mine is a knockoff. I never bothered to list it.) Sure, someone might still use them, but I don’t know who. Even the small digital cameras aren’t doing all that well because everyone has a camera in their phone…

Frank February 27, 2018 um 11:27 am

Calling things "dead" can get a site page views. I am confident Amazon will still sell a Kindle ereader in ten years.

DaveMich February 27, 2018 um 12:33 pm

Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

seaglass February 27, 2018 um 1:46 pm

And there is a niche market for those who can’t tolerate extended periods of reading on tablets but still want the convenience of an ebook no matter how awful they look.

Will Entrekin February 27, 2018 um 1:51 pm

Surely film cameras and horses and fountain pens are now all "status symbols," based on the hardcover discussion, no?

Nate Hoffelder February 27, 2018 um 8:07 pm

Except there are a lot of places where a horse is absolutely necessary because trucks can’t handle the terrain.

And a pen is a pen.

Xavier Basora February 27, 2018 um 10:29 pm

I write with fountain pens due to my learning disability. My most expensive is I think 100$. It was a Christmas present. The one I use are by Manuscript and they cost me about 12,00$.
So fountain pens aren’t necessarily status though they can be.
My attitude is that customers should be able to buy fountain pens and Bic pen. Same goes for print books and ebooks

Chris February 27, 2018 um 11:22 pm

Okay so perhaps we should replace "dead" with "stalled" as TechChrunch wrote in October 2017 or "clunky and unhip" as The Guardian wrote earlier in 2017. The eBook Reader asked whether ebook reader technology was stalled as far back as 2015. This isn’t a particularly new or controversial post by Tom’s Hardware in my opinion.

Amazon owns the vast majority of ebook sales in both the US and UK already. They’re quite likely to own an even bigger share in the US by the end of the year because B&N needs a major miracle to make it to 2019. As the article points out, Amazon shipped an estimated 7.1 million Kindles in 2016, down from a high of 23.2 million in 2011. They’ve shipped fewer Kindles every year from 2012-2016. Furthermore, the article links to a Pew study from 2015 that shows only 19% of American adults owned an e-reader. It seems many people are like me and found out when their ereader died that reading on a tablet or smartphone isn’t the terrible experience we thought it would be. Given that those devices do more than one thing, the fact that using the Kindle app isn’t a bad experience prevents me from seeing the real need for another device.

The ereader is a victim of Amazon’s success. Bezos doesn’t even talk about the Kindle anymore, he’s "all in" on Alexa because Apple and Google are still competitors in that market. Apple and Microsoft are only half heartedly interested in selling ebooks, and neither of them have any interest in releasing an ereader. The rumored Microsoft Andromeda device will have two OLED screens instead of one OLED screen and one e-ink screen. The Nook will more than likely be dead by 2019. Unless Kobo somehow upends every trend in the market that we’ve seen since 2015, they’re only going to be a very distant second to Amazon in the ebook market.

If Amazon continues to see a decline in Kindle sales year over year, I could definitely see them exiting the ereader device market sooner rather than later and only selling the Fire. The Sony and Onyx Boox devices are expensive niche products as is the Remarkable (and who knows if that device even gets a 2nd generation.). Ereaders may not be "dead" but they’re sure on life support.

Harvey February 28, 2018 um 4:49 am

Silly argument. The part of the OP you posted read only that ereaders are "less necessary," which is true. But I read in my Kindle almost every day.

The "fundamental flaw" in the OP I thought you were going to take to task was the flat-out lie that the ereader "does only one thing," but on that point, crickets. Finally, the inclusion of horses in the list of comparisons was silly too. Horses are a life form, not another bit of technology. C’mon, man.

Matthew rapaport February 28, 2018 um 8:40 pm

If any of this about kindle is true it is only because people are ignorant about it. No back lit device is as comfortable to read as a real book OR a kindle. Kindle is NOT back lit and people simply do not understand it. I read on it for hours every day without strain

Javier March 1, 2018 um 4:03 am

Ereaders have the potential to be the textbooks of the future. I imagine the students of each school with an ereader (A4 size) with stylus. Goodbye to heavy backpacks. In fact I don’t understand why we still do not have them.
Oh yeah… textbooks are in color.

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