Kindles for Christmas?

November 16, 2010

Kindle giftwrapped as a Christmas gift
Is the Kindle about to explode in popularity? Yesterday the New York Times reported “great holiday expections” for e-readers. (This year Kindles are available at lower prices than they were last year — and with more places to buy them!) Last month the Kindle began appearing at Staples, and in June they’d already started turning up at Target (where a senior VP said the response was “overwhelmingly positive.”) Plus, now they’re also available at Best Buy, where the senior VP says “there’s no question that e-readers have found their rightful place in today’s digital lifestyle.”

One researcher told the Times that currently one out of every five Kindles were purchased as a gift, and because prices have come down, the Kindle should be even more popular this shopping season. (A new study by Consumer Reports finds that this year, 10% of adults plan to give a digital reader as a gift.) In fact, the Times cites a prediction that over the next six and a half weeks, the number of people who own a Kindle or other digital reading device will increase by 14%! Only nine million people have a digital reader now, according to Forrester Research statistics, but by the end of the year it’s expected to jump to 10.3 million…

Is this the moment when digital readers finally start to achieve “critical mass”? A British web site called PC Advisor has discovered that 32.8% of their audience already own a digital reader — while another 26.5% of them were interested in owning one. With 300,804 registered users, they represent one of Europe’s largest online communities, according to Wikipedia. Yet in February of 2009 (the last time they’d conducted a similar poll) just 5.2% of their audience had said they owned a digital reader, while only 11.6 percent more even said that they’d wanted one. “The combined group of interested voters, then, has rocketed from 16.8 to 59.3 percent…”

But if the the Kindle ultimately becomes the big winner, there’s also going to be a few losers. The Times cites a book researcher who predicts that we’ve finally reached the tipping-point for ebooks — which is bad news for bookstores. And the U.S. Census Bureau confirms the bad news, reporting that this year bookstores sold 7.7% fewer books in September than they’d sold just 12 months earlier — registering their lowest sales for any month in 2010. For August, sales were also lower, but the difference was just 6.5%, suggesting bookstores are continuing to lose even more customers every month. Yet in the larger economy, retail stores actually reported a 7.6% increase in sales for September — suggesting that it’s specifically just bookstores which are having trouble attracting customers!

I’ve been asking myself if the ebook revolution is real — so I tracked down new statistics from an actual book publisher. Between July and October, “Comparable store sales of new books declined 9.3%,” reports Hastings Entertainment, adding that it’s “certainly the case that electronic book readers are impacting new book sales.” I love books, but I love reading even more, so I’m glad to be here to witness this great transition. This next six weeks may prove to be that once-in-a-century change, when a new technology radically transforms our world.

We may have reached that fork in the road when the majority of book-buyers finally switches over to ebooks…

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