Commentary

Why E-Readers Are Holding Their Own

Do we really need e-readers?

As the world is overrun by bigger smartphones and smarter tablets, you might think not. But the single-purpose gadgets seem to be holding their own.

This year, in fact, the number of e-reader owners will surpass 86.3 million, according to a new forecast from eMarketer. If accurate, that will represent an annual growth rate of 3.5%.

To be clear, the research firm has lowered the growth rate for e-readers since its last forecast, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow.

At the moment, Amazon and other e-reader makers have Baby Boomers to thank, according to Cathy Boyle, a senior analyst at eMarketer.

“There is a subset of consumers, particularly those 65 and older, who are looking for an affordable portable device that provides an enjoyable reading experience,” according to Boyle. “E-readers’ lower price point and single-focus functionality are attractive to those consumers.”

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This year, Baby Boomers will be the most likely e-reader users, with 44% of Web users in that generation using the devices.

Looking ahead, however, the number of Boomers using e-readers is actually shrinking, and next year, a higher proportion of Gen X Internet users will use one.

The tablet market, meanwhile is on pace to grow 4.7% this year -- to 166.7 million owners -- eMarketer expects.

If on track, that means more than half of the U.S. population (51.4%) will use a tablet before the year is out. That will be a first.

Yet the rising tablet tide is not raising all ships. On the contrary, iPad maker Apple continues to see its share of the market decline.

This year, 47.8% of U.S., tablet users will use an iPad -- a drop from 49.2%, last year -- according to eMarketer.

This year, the heaviest users of tablets will be Generation Xers (67% of whom will use a tablet), and they will continue to be the most-penetrated group through 2019.

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