eReader shipments are projected to decline from 15 million devices in 2011 to 11 million in 2012.
Senior ABI Research analyst Joshua Flood attributes the slowdown to a number of factors, including the growing popularity of media tablets, as well as the lack of organized digital bookstores outside of the US and western Europe.
"Regardless of the tremendous historical eReader success, the market tides have already begun to turn. Despite the average tablet selling for more than $465 as a result of Apple's dominant market position, tablets are expected to outsell eReaders 9 to 1 this year," explained Flood.
"Nevertheless, the eReader market will not be totally cannibalized by media tablets. We believe there will always be a niche market for the dedicated reading device for voracious readers, business travelers, and educational segments, particularly ones that are low-priced."
According to Flood, annual eReader shipments are projected to drop by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1% over the next five years. In contrast, global media tablet shipments are predicted to increase from approximately 102 million annual device shipments in 2012 to nearly 250 million in 2017.
Of course, eReaders still maintain certain advantages over media tablets for reading purposes. For example, electronic paper (ePaper) displays are capable of better replicating the print reading experience and are usable in direct sunlight conditions unlike LCD technologies. Plus, the eReader battery life of weeks between charging is significantly greater than the media tablet. And of course, eReaders are more affordable than entry-level tablets.
"The decline of buying audiences for dedicated digital readers in the US is more rapid than the digital publishing ecosystems organizing for growth in Asia or Eastern Europe," said ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr.
"Development of content digitalization systems and services in all world regions should continue without delay as the effort will be necessary for developing mobile app catalogs that provide easy search, discovery, and monetization."