eReaders are set to have one of the shortest growth life cycles in device history. Between 2009-2011 the average annual sales of dedicated eReading devices in the US grew by more than 100%. In 2012, US dedicated eReader sales growth will be negative. The decline of the eReader is driven by the availability and affordability of tablets, with global tablet sales in 2012 set to reach more than 120 million.

The Forrester Research eReader And eBook Adoption Forecast, 2012 To 2017 (Global) analyzes eBook adoption drivers across more than 50 countries. Heavy readers like eBooks. In the US, eBook readers read an average of 24 books per year compared with just 15 books for non-eBook readers. In addition, eBook readers are becoming more device-agnostic, with similar eBook reading levels observed across tablets and dedicated eReading devices.

We used the following drivers to calculate our forecast for eBooks and eReaders

·         The size of the book market (both physical and digital): In the Middle East, only one in five adults reads on a regular basis. Compare this with the US, where 73% of the 16+ population reads for pleasure at least monthly and a quarter  of the 18+ population reads more than a one book per month.

·         Education levels: The size of the book-reading population within a country depends on the education level reached. UNESCO data states that there are still many countries where less than half of the population ages 25 or older has attained at least lower secondary education.

·         eBook availability: Half of the eBooks published worldwide are in English. The availability of eBooks in Arabic and the ability of eReaders to track text from right to left to accommodate that language has been a constraining factor in eBook uptake in Arabic-reading regions.

·         eBooks’ cost advantage over print: In most of Europe, eBooks are subject to a higher rate of value-added tax (VAT) than physical books. However, a recent study by the European Commission encouraged more open eBook pricing. 

·         eBook piracy: Like the music industry, piracy could still constrain the eBook market. For example, government statistics in Russia indicate that 90% of the eBook market involves pirated copies.

·         Device availability: In China, far more people read eBooks online or on a smartphone than on an eReader or tablet. 

·         Book categories: Converting physical books to eBooks will depend on each book category: scholar/professional, children’s, adult fiction, nonfiction, textbooks, and self-publishing.  

Although the dedicated eReader is on the decline, eBook sales are growing at a rate consistent with that seen by the digital music industry. Book stores are starting to accept the disruption that eBooks have caused and are selling both physical and digital books. Bookstore examples in the UK include Waterstones and WHSmith, which sell the Kindle and the Kobo reader, respectively.

Our forecast predicts that Europe will be the largest eBook market in the world by 2017, with revenues of $19 billion; North America and Asia Pacific will follow. The challenge to global book retailers will be to offer content across the multitude of devices that book readers own and that fits the reading demographics and habits of each country.