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Waterproof e-reader from Kobo

Kobo is set to release the world’s first waterproof e-reader after finding customers would buy more e-books if they were to able to read near water.

The Canada-based company, owned by the Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, said the new device allowed consumers to use their e-readers for up to 30 minutes in one meter of water with the device port cover closed.  

The company has taken the steps to release the e-reader, which will cost £139.99 when it is released on 1st October, after readers reported they were put off from buying more e-books because they couldn’t use their devices near water.

Michael Tamblyn, president and chief content officer of Kobo, said: “When we asked our customers what held them back from reading more e-books, many told us they love to read in the bath, by the pool, or on the beach, but believed that devices and water didn’t mix. As we dug deeper, we found that more than 60% of customers surveyed said they would love to be able read near water without worry. We designed the Kobo Aura H2O, our latest premium e-reader, so that e-books could be just as common at the beach or in the bath as they are on the bus or in bed.”

The e-ink reader is available to pre-order from the Kobo store or WH Smith, its partner retailer in the UK from today (27th August) and is in a higher definition, thinner and lighter than its last e-reading device, the Kobo Aura. It follows hot on the heels of the Nook Glowlight, which was released in the UK by Barnes & Noble earlier this month, costing £89, which may further boost the e-reading market. 

However, both Kobo and Nook’s new devices follow Sony’s decision to cease production of e-readers because they were no longer “economically viable”  and come amid growing analyst skepticism about the product’s longevity in the technology market.

The latest data from Nielsen, obtained exclusively by The Bookseller, shows that tablets are rapidly taking over e-readers as the most popular device to read digitally on. Results from Nielsen’s latest Books & Consumer Survey show that twice as many book buyers now own a tablet to use as a dedicated e-reader with 51% of book buyers owning one in the first quarter of 2014 compared with 25% of who own an e-reader - a notable increase from the same period last year, when 33% of book buyers owned a tablet and 25% owned an e-reader.

While more people buy books on e-readers than tablets, Nielsen’s research shows this gap is closing, with 37% of people now buying books on tablets compared with 28% in 2013. By contrast, the number of people buying books through an e-reader has dropped from 61% in 2013 to 46% this year.

Douglas McCabe, an analyst at Enders, said that after “explosive early growth”, sales of e-readers have slowed.  “In a few years’ time we will look back at e-readers and remember them as one of the shortest-lived of all consumer media devices; sales of tablets have been the key device story of 2013 and 2014,” he said.

He pointed to the German market, where just 832,000 e-readers were sold, in comparison to eight million tablets.

“The main challenge for book publishers in the transition from e-readers to tablets is that multi-purpose devices pull consumers away from reading,” he said. “An online browser is a click away, as are one million apps and extraordinarily popular online games.”

Meanwhile Simon Bryant, associate director of consumer electronics at Futuresource Consulting, agreed that his survey data also showed more UK households own a tablet than an e-reader now than they did a year ago, and more people are reading e-books on tablets.

"The e-reader market is in decline in the UK, primarily due to the growth of tablets as a product category," he said. "A dedicated e-reader has clear quality advantages over a tablet – particularly when reading for extended periods, but this has not been sufficient to sustain growth of the market as the additional cost of an entry level tablet is low.

However, Takahito Aiki, chief executive officer of Kobo, said: “Our number one priority is encouraging people to read more. With our award-winning e-readers such as Kobo Glo, Kobo Aura, and Kobo Aura HD, we brought readers what they wanted: anti-glare displays for easy reading in sunlight and built-in front light technology for reading with ease day or night. The new Aura H2O adds another layer to our promise of enabling people to bring their libraries with them wherever they want.”