eBook Reader Shipments (and Rumors) Hit All-Time High in 2010

Vendors like to constrain access to product performance data, especially in the early stages of a market. This keeps competitors and investors at bay allowing manufacturers to build awareness and hype. As expected, credible details on shipments for eBook Reader devices have been sparse.

Vendors and so-called “sources familiar with the situation” recently turned up the volume on how well the mobile CE device category is doing. Whether it was about Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Hanvon, or Sony, the message was similar: “millions” of devices have shipped and significant gains were seen in comparison to 2009.

ABI Research expects more than 11 million eBook Reader devices to ship in 2010 with the majority: destined for the United States, and including built-in 3G wireless connectivity. Contrast that with the fact that less than 4 million devices shipped worldwide in 2009.

Some pundits felt media tablets, such as Apple’s iPad, would obviate the need for dedicated consumer electronics reader devices. This couldn’t be further from the real world. Amazon executives directly tackled the claims by saying that their results don’t reflect the supposed cannibalization, and that consumers are even choosing to acquire both slate-shaped devices.

A fundamental change to reading digital content occurred mid-2009 when the dedicated eReader vendors starting offering reader software applications for PCs, media tablets and smartphones. This shift in strategy signaled that no single platform would garner all the eyes. The uptake on additional “screens” bodes well for digital content bookstores.

The statistics emerging today for the eBook Reader market reiterate what was already understood; just coming now from the vendors themselves. Media tablets have created incremental opportunities for the consumption of the written word. It has been a good year for eReaders, but still a long road ahead to become a mass market opportunity.