The global market for e-paper displays, such as those used by the Amazon Kindle line of e-book readers as well as those from Sony, will grow 124 percent from 2008 through 2013 and in that time exceed $2.5 billion, according to an Aug. 20 study from NextGen Research.
The study's author, James Belcher, says "electronic ink" displays are finally hitting the market in a big way, though it remains to be seen whether future contenders-which Apple is likely to be among-will displace the Kindle's early lead in the market and continue to grow it.
"eReader makers will have to appeal to more than just early adopters and business travelers," said Belcher in a statement. "Consumers have read books printed on paper for hundreds of years, without having to endure the multiple format changes seen in recorded music. Getting the bulk of consumers to change that behavior will require an experience superior to that of the printed page."
Belcher compares the quickness with which the Kindle endeared itself to early users with the initial adoption of the Apple iPod. What remains to be seen, he says, is whether these new contenders, which are likely to bring improved technology to the table, can expand the e-book audience beyond "tech-savvy road warriors."
A July 29 report from Forrester Research described early e-book readers as successful males with a mean age of 47. Considerable growth in the space is likely to be reliant upon adoption by women, the report found, as well as a price point dip down to $99.
Ultimately, Belcher suggests, e-reader adoption, and so e-paper display growth, rests on a number of cultural and behavioral considerations, such as whether readers will buy a device dedicated solely to reading, or will they demand multiple functionalities. Is reading on paper too deeply engrained a habit to break? And additionally, how will mobile phones and netbooks capable of displaying texts affect e-reader sales?
There's also a likelihood that as e-reader prices fall, they're more likely to be adopted by small business and enterprise users.
Belcher expects that some day e-paper will be inexpensive enough to be used on billboards and outdoor signage.
"Until then," he said, "digital book readers will be the main drivers of e-paper market growth."