Dec. 12, 2012 at 3:58 PM ET
It may seem like everybody and their mother has an e-reader like a Kindle or Nook, but the popularity of these devices may be short-lived. IHS iSuppli suggests that the e-reader trend may have already peaked.
Examining sales numbers, they found that the e-reader market, after explosive growth starting in 2008, appears to have maxed out in 2011. That year, approximately 23.2 million units were sold — more than twice the number sold in 2010.
(It's impossible to be absolutely sure of these numbers, since Amazon, the largest seller of e-readers, doesn't release its sales. But they can be inferred from e-ink screen shipments and other measures.)
Yet despite a raft of impressive new self-illuminating e-readers appearing this year, 2012's sales are down to just under 15 million units. Still a lot — but if growth has stalled, there's nowhere to go but down. In fact, IHS iSuppli estimates that by 2016, only 7.1 million e-readers will be sold per year.
The analysts cite the iPad's runaway success as a key factor in the decline, but it can also be attributed to the sudden proliferation of cheap, capable tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire. Starting at under $200, these devices still cost more than e-readers, but for consumers, that diminishing cost difference is still worth paying in light of tablets' versatility. Soon, overall tablet sales will be measured in the hundreds of millions.
In response to this capable, low-cost competition, e-readers will have to lower their prices further — perhaps even start looking for subsidy from bookstores to get their device under $20, like the Txtr Beagle.
Don't worry, though: If you're looking for a paperback replacement that doesn't strain your eyes in a few years, you'll almost certainly still be able to pick up and e-ink device — and they'll be cheap. But barring some extraordinary, industry-changing event, the glory days of the e-reader are now behind us.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.