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What ereader decline? Kobo pumps up the volumes despite grim forecasts

Big gains in 2012 even though world+dog in a fondleslab frenzy

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A chirpy Kobo has claimed it now has more than 12 million registered users, four million of them creating ebook buyer accounts with the company during 2012.

It lauded its device sales too - well, its e-ink kit, not its Android-based tablet offerings - insisting it had captured 20 per cent of the world ereader market in 2012.

Kobo's numbers bear closer scrutiny. While market-watchers IDC and IHS iSuppli both reckon ereader sales were lower in 2012 than they were in 2011 - by 28 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively - Kobo said its sales “were up nearly 150 per cent in December”.

Alas, Kobo didn’t say whether that was year on year - or simply month-on-month. You would expect a sequential increase, December being the Christmas sales period. Given the overall trend, a big year-on-year jump seems unlikely, but not impossible if Kobo is starting off from a low base.

During 2012, Kobo expanded its territorial reach beyond North America and the UK to Brazil, Portugal, Italy, Japan, Spain, South Africa and the Netherlands, which may have helped lift its ereader sales even as punters in its core markets were migrating to tablets.

The Register’s Underground Index, our informal, anecdotal measure of a device’s consumer acceptance based on how often - or not - we see it being used by Tube travellers, shows a small increase for Kobo kit. We saw hardly any last year, but a couple have already been spotted in the early weeks of 2013. The numbers are nowhere near those of Amazon’s various e-ink Kindles, mind.

And Kobo’s claim that its December sales increase helped “the company to carve out 20 per cent of the global ereader market”? That’s based solely on a November 2012 forecast made by hacks at Taiwanese tech site DigiTimes that 9.82 million will ship during the year.

Even DigiTimes reckons ereader shipments fell in 2012. And that’s a trend that will continue into 2013, the analysts at iSuppli and IDC say: down from 14.9 million units to 7.8 million by 2015, say the former.

Compare that 14.9 million units to the 122.3 million tablets IDC reckons shipped during 2012.

Yet US pollster the Pew Research Center says its survey data shows 23 per cent of Americans read ebooks in 2012, up from with 16 per cent in 2011. Demand for digital books is clearly there. The question is, will punters acquire and view them on tablets or ereaders?

In the US and UK, there’s a consensus among market watchers that the tablet is where it’s at. But in other developed and developing markets there’s room for growth - Kobo may be right to be emphasising its push into fresh territory.

Futuresource Consulting, a lone voice among market watchers, it seems reckons even here in Blighty ereader sales will continue. Rather than a fall during 2013, analyst Simon Bryant reckons sales here will top 2.4 million units - what they were in 2012. Sales will begin to slow in 2014, however.

Tablets will continue to dominate ereading - their sales lead can’t help but do so - but there’s clearly sales to be had for the e-ink incumbents, Kobo among them. ®

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