Tablets vs. E-Readers: Why There's Room For Both

E-readers are screwed.

That's the main takeaway from Wednesdays ominously worded report from IHS, anyway. The numbers are pretty dramatic: By the end of the year, sales of dedicated ebook reading devices will have dropped 36% from 2011. Come 2016, says IHS, total e-reader sale volume will be just two-thirds of what it was last year.

Yikes. Is this really the death of e-readers? 

It makes perfect sense that e-reader sales are falling off a cliff. Tablets are eating their lunch. Not only has Apple sold 84 million iPads to date, but the companies who have dominated the e-reader market are themselves shipping tablets now. 

Consumers are quite naturally drawn to these multi-function, multimedia-capable gadgets that can stream movies, browse the Web, take photos, play Letterpress and do just about anything else app developers can dream up. And yes, those same devices - whose prices keep falling - let you read books too.  

My iPad Is Great, But I Really Want A Kindle

When Steve Jobs first unveiled the iPad, I thought it was absurd. Never would I need to supplement my laptop and iPhone with this giant iPod Touch, I declared.

Today, I use my iPad constantly. It serves as my alarm clock, morning newspaper, TV content providerfuturistic radiobedtime magazine, digital cookbook and much else. It even helps me do my job. What an incredible gizmo. 

But you know what's the very top of my wish list? Amazon's Kindle Paper White. An e-reader of the very sort whose grave is allegedly being dug by my shiny new iPad. 

The thing about my iPad is that there's too much going on there. It's not quite as busy and distraction-prone as my laptop, but when I'm staring into the growing screen of my tablet, my brain knows about all the options it has. I can check Twitter, refresh my Gmail inbox one more time, page through Flipboard, catch up on my ever-overflowing Instapaper queue or see what videos are bubbling up on YouTube, ShowYou or Frequency. And I don't even play games or use chat apps on my iPad. 

Reading comprises the vast majority of what I do on my iPad. Probably 90% of all the words that my brain processes in a given month come from that glowing, 9.7-inch Retina display. I catch up on Google Reader and Flipboard, but I also delve into longer content on Instapaper, Longform and digital magazines. The thing I can never seem to make my way to is the Kindle app, where the books are waiting. 

The Underrated Value Of A Single-Use Device

That's why I want a Kindle. After a day of dinging notifications, multitasking and hopping from app to app, my brain could really use the respite of a device that does only one thing. 

Why, you might ask, don't I just pick up a paperback book and put the gadgets away?

I certainly do that from time to time, but the inescapable reality is that more and more content exists in digital space. Like analog records, I'll always have a physical bookshelf, but most of what I consume will be digital. There's just more new stuff there, and it's more easily accessible. Some big name authors are now going directly through Amazon, with or without a print edition. If I get a PDF copy of a new book or want to get a sample a chapter, I need to turn to a gadget to read those things. E-readers might be on the decline, but e-books aren't going anywhere. 

Perhaps I could just turn off my iPad's Wi-Fi, launch the Kindle app and, for crying out loud, exercise a little self-control. I do that from time to time, too. And it works. But sometimes I'd like to leave the backlit, multifunction gadgets at home and not even have the option to do other stuff. I'd also like to do read an e-book on the beach without squinting to see the text or risk dropping a $600 device in the sand. 

So the Kindle it is. I very much have room for both devices in my life, and I doubt I'm the only one.

All things considered, it makes complete sense that dedicated e-readers are selling less - and that that decline will continue as tablet prices drop. But I don't think we should write off e-readers off quite yet. At least, I hope not. I've got a hell of a reading queue to catch up on.