It wasn’t long ago that eReaders were foretold as being the doom of the book publishing industry. As detailed by Vox, the Amazon Kindle’s launch brought the all-in-one book devices into the mainstream in 2007, with the fad holding true through to 2010. From there, it was expected that millennials would adopt the page-less way of reading en masse, but instead, it appears as though it was the boomers carrying eBooks to their 20 percent share of sales. Now, as we pass another decade, eReader market revenue worldwide will decline, according to reports, from $4.6 billion in 2018 and 2020 down to $2 billion in 2024. With millennials and Gen-Z seemingly reverting back to print books, is the decline of eReaders a harbinger of a kind of reverse digitization?
Books vs eReaders
The decline of eReader and eBook sales has been noted for a few years now, with early 2019 marking a 4.5 percent decline from the year before. At the same time, traditional print saw growth, with hardcover book sales seeing a 7.8 percent uptick and paperbacks increasing by 3.1 percent. According to the Association of American Publishers’ annual report, the dominance of physical books still holds up, with $22.6 billion coming from print copies compared to $2.04 billion for eBooks in 2019. Over the next five years, an overall decline, particularly for eReader devices, is set to continue at a rate of 12.7 percent CAGR from 2019 through to 2024. The projected rate of decline for eReaders is startling. Still, the sink in eReader adoption doesn’t necessarily relay a complete demise of eBooks, although they too have been sliding in revenues.
It’s not all doom and gloom for digital book sales, though, with Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble offering deals on their eReaders through the first half of 2020 to see increased sales. While publishers endured delays, digital book options soared. British publishers also expect 2020 to show all-time high sales despite the six years of decline in the UK, with sales jumping by 17 percent in the first half alone. However, if the predictions hold up, 2020 will almost certainly be noted as an anomalous finding, a blimp for eReaders before a further decline. That said, digitized books look set to continue to hold a firm footing, particularly due to the accessibility granted by multifunctional devices, such as the new iPad Pro and iPad Mini tablets, as well as the widespread adoption of audiobooks. As detailed by the Globe Newswire review, the global audiobook market is set to fly from $2.67 billion to a massive $13.45 billion by 2027. With audiobooks also being accessible via non-dedicated hardware, they, too, will be able to continue to thrive.
Reverting from digitization seemingly just a book trend
One of the earliest forms of print to turn to digital through necessity were the newspapers, and while the industry now faces new struggles to get ample advertising revenue, early digital adopters continue to thrive. According to The Atlantic, print newspaper advertising revenue fell by $40 billion between 2000 and 2015. Still, The New York Times managed to evade this decline by adopting a subscription model, recording a revenue increase of $162 million between 2016 and 2018. The digital era is already upon us, with several other sectors of traditional entertainment now turning to online platforms and new tech to enhance the accessibility and scope of their product. While the approach is seemingly dying out in the realm of books, the general public is undoubtedly looking to digital platforms with much more frequency.
While the physical versions continue to sell well, digital board games have picked up a tremendous amount of steam in recent years. Easily-accessed platforms like Tabletopia, which boasts a huge range of solo, classic, two-player, and co-op games become more popular each year, especially as the digital format allows for an easier and more intuitive learning of the rules. In fact, Monopoly has been atop the App Store rankings for years, despite being a premium app. Trading and collectable card games have long been about opening packs and building decks, with many cards going on to hold value. Still, even card games are being widely adopted online, with Blizzard announcing a 100-million player base for Hearthstone in 2018. Much more classic card games have been revitalized online, too, and yet, their most popular form is as a live stream. Through the use of live streaming technology, card games like Real Baccarat allow people to play at a table in real-time via smartphones or computers.
While the live streaming of table games stands as the most two-way and interactive application of streaming in entertainment so far, streaming itself has transformed physical mediums tremendously. Music is the obvious place to start, with online streaming uprooting the industry, now set to grow at a CAGR of over 17 percent over the next several years, with premium audio provider Tidal among the leading entities. Business Wire also estimates substantial growth in the global video streaming market of 19.1 percent, further powered by usual cinematic releases going straight to streaming, as shown by Warner Bros.’ deal with HBO Max. With so many entertainment mediums becoming increasingly driven by their digital platforms, relatively cost-effective and convenient hardware like eReaders would appear to be the way forward.
While eReaders are on the decline, a new wave of innovation could revitalize the market. That said, the shift would have to be enough to outweigh the convenience of just reading eBooks through other multifunctional devices or even usurp the accepted value of owning physical copies.