Entertainment | Books
|Great Holiday Expectations for E-Readers|
Julie Bosman - New York Times
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November 15, 2010
This could be the holiday season that American shoppers and e-readers are properly introduced.
|Jenna Mercandante demonstrates a Nook for her father, Dominic, in a Barnes & Noble store in Livingston, N.J. (Sara Krulwich/New York Times)|
E-readers will be widely available at stores like Target, Best Buy and Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, and offered at prices that make sense for Christmas gifts — less than $150.
Publishers and booksellers are expecting that instead of giving your mother a new Nicholas Sparks novel or your father a David Baldacci thriller in the hardcovers that traditionally fly off the shelves and into wrapping paper at this time of year, you might elect to convert them to e-reading.
“This is the tipping-point season for e-readers, there’s no question,” said Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company. “A lot more books are going to be sold in e-book format. It also means that a lot fewer people are going to be shopping in bookstores.”
Only a small slice of the book-buying public has bought an e-reader. About nine million devices are in circulation in the United States, according to Forrester Research.
That could jump in the coming weeks as consumers begin their holiday shopping, analysts predict. According to Forrester, at least 10.3 million e-readers could be in circulation by the end of the year.
And many of them will be bought for other people. Research from Simba Information, which provides data and advice to publishers, has shown that 1 in 5 of those who own a Kindle, Amazon’s dedicated e-reader, received it as a gift.
In a recent Consumer Reports poll, 10 percent of the adults surveyed said they planned to give an e-reader as a gift this year, up from 4 percent in 2009.
That has corresponded with an increase in e-book sales. Two years ago, publishers said that sales of e-books constituted 1 percent of total book sales, but the figure is now closer to 9 or 10 percent.
A year ago, the Kindle was the dominant force in e-readers, and it remains so. But since then, the Nook from Barnes & Noble and the iPad from Apple have emerged as major competitors.
Last month, Barnes & Noble introduced a color version of the Nook for $249; there is also the Kobo, which is sold at Borders and Wal-Mart, and dozens of other e-readers, including a $100 tablet offered on Walgreens.com.
“Last year, when you think of the e-reader category, it was Nook and Kindle and Sony, but primarily Nook and Kindle if you look at the sales,” said William Lynch, chief executive of Barnes & Noble. “The difference this year is, there’s a whole lot more choice.”
Maybe too much, said Michael Norris, a senior analyst for Simba Information. “I don’t think that the U.S. market can support 50 or 60 e-readers,” he said, adding that he had lost count of all the current models.
James McQuivey, an analyst for Forrester Research, predicted that the glut of e-readers would confuse consumers.
“The range of choices is actually going to be perplexing,” Mr. McQuivey said. “And when that happens, consumers go back to the tried-and-true brands that have trust and good word of mouth.”
Weeks before the holiday season officially begins, the promotional blitz by retailers has already begun. On Amazon.com, a prominent homepage ad informs shoppers about the latest versions of the Kindle, for $139 and $189.
At the Borders Store at Columbus Circle in Manhattan, a bright red table near the front entrance features an assortment of readers, among them the Aluratek Libre e-reader ($100) and the Cruz Reader from Velocity Micro ($170).
Barnes & Noble has added sleek white “boutiques” in its stores, dedicated to showcasing the Nook. A Barnes & Noble in Greenwich Village has featured an enormous freestanding poster above the store entrance, with window displays full of brochures for the Nook Color and protective cases for the device, in hot pink, black and turquoise.
Inside the store on a recent evening, Jonathan Goodman, a writer in a gray trench coat, inspected a Nook e-reader and peppered a saleswoman with questions about price, book selection and service, in case the device broke down.
“There are just so many to choose from,” Mr. Goodman said, sounding weary. “But at this point, buying one feels inevitable.”
Amazon, which is planning a television advertising campaign throughout the holiday season, has expanded its reach to brick-and-mortar stores as well. During the holiday season last year, the Kindle was available only on Amazon.com; now it is sold at several national chains.
“Customers can walk into a Target, into a Best Buy, into a Staples, and touch and feel the screen for themselves,” said Jay Marine, director of product management for the Kindle.
All the emphasis on e-readers could take away from sales of the hardcover book, a traditional holiday gift, and that is a prospect that has some booksellers worried.
“There’s no question that this is the year of the gadget, and this year’s gadget is the e-reader,” said Geoffrey Jennings, the owner of Rainy Day Books, an independent bookstore in Fairway, Kan.
But Mr. Jennings said that sales of print books at his store were even stronger than last year, and that he believed the e-reading craze could be limited.
“A lot of people are going to get these things and they’re going to go, ‘This isn’t like reading a book,’” he said. “Then again, you’ll have people who get them and then say, this is a fun gadget. But people get sick of gadgets after a while.”
Publishers insisted that they were not worried about the spread of e-readers. “We’ll see a lot of reading devices under the tree, which means we’ll sell a lot of e-books,” said Tim McCall, the director of online sales for Penguin Group USA.
Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said she expected e-book sales to shoot up on Christmas Day, when people open up their e-readers and immediately start buying books.
“The digital will be an added plus to what looks like we’re starting to pull out of — a very lackluster market,” Ms. Reidy said. “That will make for a very happy year after two Christmases that have not been very happy.”