The page turns: Tablets to outsell e-readers by 2012

Tablets are on pace to outsell standalone e-readers, although there’s still money to be made from e-reader hardware. Research firm In-Stat today said that the broader market will be drawn to multi-purpose devices instead of single-function units, such as traditional e-readers like the Kindle. Even with an estimated 40 million e-readers sold by 2015, far more consumers will turn to tablets because they can be used to read e-books as well as browse the web, manage email, game and communicate.

For a pure reading experience, most would agree that devices such as Amazon’s Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader are exceptional. All use high contract electronic ink screens that only use power when “turning” the page, so the batteries last for weeks or months at a time. These also focus the user solely on reading with few to no external distractions. I sold my Kindle for an iPad, since the tablet can double as an e-reader, but I sometimes miss the simplicity of my old e-reader. I can read without any distractions like email notifications or the desire to check my Twitter stream, for example.

Perhaps the best, and worst, development in the recent history of e-books is the ability to read content on multiple devices. That’s what enabled me to sell my Kindle: Amazon’s software for iOS brings e-book reading to the tablet with a wide range of additional functionality. Other e-reader platforms have followed suit, which has allowed tablet owners to continue enjoying digital books, provided they don’t mind giving up the paper-like eInk display of a dedicated e-reader. In-Stat’s survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, for example, shows that 38 percent own a tablet vs. just 26 percent who own an e-reader.

I doubt, however, that the current e-book sellers will cease making hardware anytime soon, as there are still too many people who prefer the focused experience an e-reader brings. Besides, the booksellers make the same money from content regardless of the device it’s read on. Both Barnes & Noble as well as Kobo have bucked the tablet trend by recently introducing new standalone devices at prices under $139. Amazon has dropped the price of its Kindle to as low as $114, provided consumers don’t mind seeing special offer advertisements.

On the other hand, the Nook Color actually doubles as a usable Android device, complete with apps, while Amazon is expected to debut its own tablet later this year. Again, software is driving the change. With a download, e-books can be read on smartphones, tablets or even a personal computer, in a pinch. This flexibility helps me read two to three e-book titles a week: Whenever I have a few minutes, I simply read with whatever device I have on hand. For some that will be single purpose device, but for a growing number of consumers, a connected tablet will be the e-reader of choice.