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E-readers or Tablets?

Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 11:15 AM

What's the PDR (Portable Digital Reader) of choice? Is e-reading trending away from designated e-readers and toward tablets?

By Meredith L. Dias

If we learned anything from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it’s that just a year can make a world of difference in e-reading trends. Just last year, e-readers were the talk of Las Vegas at CES 2010. The release of the Apple iPad, however, may have steered the portable digital reading device industry in a new direction -- toward tablets.

That’s not to say that PDRs like the Kindle and Nook are ailing. A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) report predicts that 14.7 million e-readers will sell this year (up from just under 11 million last year, or about 35 percent growth). This figure is impressive, but pales in comparison to the projected sales of 44.6 million tablet computers. And, at this year’s CES, tablets were generating an awful lot of buzz.

Seven tablet computer models were unveiled at CES 2011, including the long-anticipated RIM BlackBerry Playbook and Motorola Xoom. These new devices will broaden the tablet market, currently dominated by the Apple iPad, considerably. This onslaught of new tablets may spark a tablet computing revolution.

So which PDR devices will readers choose to fulfill their e-reading preferences as digital reading continues to boom? Designated e-readers like the Kindle or tablets like the iPad or Playbook? With so much uncertainty about where readers will ultimately flock, publishers ought to think twice before investing all their resources in a single device. The iPad was hailed as a potential savior for magazine and book publishers last year, but it is no longer the only tablet in town. Moreover, now that there is a color version of the Nook, perhaps it’s premature to predict imminent obsolescence for unitasking e-readers. There is more than one way to deliver magazine content, and considerable growth is projected in both e-reader and tablet markets.

We can do little more than speculate at this point. It seems all but certain that the tablet market will explode this year, but perhaps it is wiser to wait until the dust settles before choosing which device’s apps are best for your publication. I’m certainly not encouraging an imitate-not-innovate approach during these revolutionary times, but the shift in focus from e-readers to tablets in just a year should give publishers pause. What will happen at CES 2012? Will there be a new class of devices commanding the digital reading conversation at this time next year? Will e-readers make a comeback, or will tablets meet or even exceed expectations?

It’s exciting to think of what these tablets and e-readers (particularly the Nook Color) might make possible for magazines. Perhaps, at long last, the industry has found the solution to its digital/online profitability problem. But don’t leap before you look. 2011 may very well be the year of the tablet, but it remains to be seen which tablets will become formidable iPad competitors and what the pros and cons for publishers will be across the various app platforms. And don’t count out those designated e-readers just yet. Though their projected 2011 sales pale in comparison to tablets, an increase of 4 million devices in a year is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Meredith Dias is senior editor of STRAT and Editors Only.

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