The e-book market is poised to ship 30 million units in 2013, doubling 2012's totals, ABI Research reported in a Dec. 6 report. U.S. readers, embracing the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader, have built up the market, which the firm now expects to begin expanding globally over the next few years.
Driving the expansion, said the report, will be content, app stores and falling prices.
"Digitized content is the key," principal analyst Jeff Orr said in a statement. "It has been in the United States that the most content has been translated to digital form. The companies that provide the devices also maintain tightly integrated content stores that make access easy. In two or three years we will enter a period in which much more digital printed matter will become available in other countries and regions. Western Europe will be first, followed by Eastern Europe and Asia, especially China."
ABI notes that the majority of e-readers are manufactured in China, though the devices have had little traction in the country. This, said Orr, is due to three factors: a lack of digitized content, relatively lower levels of literacy and the cost of the devices. In order for the cost barrier to be removed, the devices would need to be priced at less than the equivalent of $100 in the United States.
"Once these obstacles begin to be overcome, China has the potential to be a major e-book market in its own right," states the report.
Chinese consumers have increasingly embraced other popular mobile devices, such as the Apple iPhone 4. China provider Unicom initially struggled to meet subscriber demand when the device went on sale Sept. 25. While in the days following the release of the iPhone 3GS Apple sold approximately 5,000 of the phones, as well as about 100,000 in the six weeks that followed, Unicom told the Wall Street Journal that by Sept. 25 it had received 200,000 preorders for the iPhone 4 and, by the end of the day, sold 40,000 phones, bundled with service plans.
Another Apple product, the iPad, was expected to cut into e-reader sales - and according to a recent ChangeWave survey, it has. While in August Amazon's Kindle commanded 62 percent of the market to Apple's 16 percent, in November Amazon's share fell to 47 while Apple's rose to 32 percent. Still, it has hardly killed the market, with some North American e-book consumers now owning more than one e-reader, so as to "ensure a wide selection of content," reported ABI.
The report describes e-readers as fairly straightforward and simple in their design and performance, and the competition among them as "fierce," which is resulting in falling price points. This, says ABI, reinforces the theory that content, and not simple brand allure, is driving consumers' decisions.
"The device brand isn't as important as the content: success will increasingly depend on the strength of the relationship between reader and content provider," Orr said in a statement. "Non-U.S. markets will be less driven by booksellers and more by publishers and perhaps even network operators."