Gartner says 6.6 million of the digital devices will be sold this year, even as competition from media tablets like the iPad grows.
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Global sales of electronic readers, the portable devices with digital paper displays that appeal to avid book readers, are expected to rise by nearly 80% this year, a market research firm says.
Sales will total 6.6 million units, compared to 3.6 million units last year, Gartner reported Wednesday. While sales will slow a bit next year, e-reader manufacturers are still expected to sell 11 million units, an increase of 68.3%.
Most of the sales over the last two years have occurred in North America, which is expected to remain a key market through 2014. Roughly two-thirds of e-reader sales this year were in the region. In time, North America's dominance will wane as sales increase in Western Europe and the Asia/Pacific region, Gartner says.
The leading e-reader vendors today are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony. That may change in the future as low-cost devices subsidized by content owners, such as book or magazine publishers, hit the market.
E-reader makers in general have carved out a solid niche in the consumer electronics market, due to their portability, long battery life, solid display technology for reading books, and relatively inexpensive retail prices. Because most of the devices do not have color screens, they are expected to face tough competition from media tablets, such as the Apple iPad. Such devices offer a better visual experience when displaying newspapers and magazines.
Some market researchers have already seen e-reader sales in the U.S. diminished by Apple's iPad. ChangeWave Research this month reported that Amazon's Kindle saw its share fall 15 percentage points to 47% of the market from Aug. 1 to Nov. 8, while the iPad rose 16 percentage points to 32%.
To grow their niche, e-reader vendors will need to target avid readers with devices that remain less expensive than full-featured tablets. This will mean smaller profits for manufacturers. "We think few end users will buy both an e-reader and a media tablet, so it is important that e-readers retain a price advantage," Gartner analyst Allen Weiner, says in a statement.
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