L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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23 February 2008 Blog Home : February 2008 : Permalink

Where are the E-ink displays?

Going on the trials and tribulations of NAEB it is becoming clear that demand for e-ink screens appears to be outstripping supply. How do we know that? well because of this:

Accepting orders for the 2nd 100 units to ship late March.

Those of us who are subscriber's to Baen's Bar and the EbookReader forum there can read a little more background and see that it looks like Bookeen are perpetually running out of stock. It is unclear to me what the volume they are shipping is but given that NAEB appears to be a fairly major customer for Bookeen I'm going to guess we're looking at rates of about 1000-2000 per month or so which is not exactly flying off the shelves.

Teleread has also been doing estimates about the sales of the Kindle and they too seem to be in the 1000s range rather than anything greater. And, as with Bookeen, there seems to be more demand than available supply - although perhaps not so much more demand that profit can be made reselling them. Indeed last year teleread also reported a researcher estimate that Amazon might sell a mere 50,000 kindles in a year.

I don't know how to estimate iLiad or Sony Reader sales but I would suspect both are at similar orders of magnitude. iLiad selling less that Bookeen, Sony probably selling somewhat more, possibly 10 times more but definitely not 50-100 times more.

In other words if we add up all the ebook readers multiply by some finagle factor to count for lower counts and so on and we're looking at current production of somewhere around 30,000 e-ink displays a month. I could be underestimating here because a digitimes article from late 2006 indicates that at that point it had a capacity of 60,000 units per month and that it was planning to increase this. However even if we are a little above that quoted 60,000 units a month annual production is under a million. Teleread also reports that the iLiad was also out of stock last month and that Sony sold out too recently. So it isn't just the new readers that are having supply issues.

Bear in mind that the Apple iPhone, which is a major seller but not outstanding in phone volume numbers, shipped 3.7 million units. Asus is predicted to sell anywhere up to 6 million of its eee in 2008. Other non e-ink readers like the Nokia tablets, are hard to get numbers for but it was the number 3 product on Amazon this Christmas and, given that Nokia is now on its third generation one (and rumours of a WiMAX enabled fourth gen one seem pretty solid), it seems likely that volumes are healthy. Since Nokia ships around 400 million phones a year healthy means at least 1 million per year. And let us not forget all the other PDAs, smartphones etc. that can be used to read eBooks.

If the e-ink readers are to be a commercial success they also need volumes in the millions. Each of them. Going on the evidence in 2008 we'll be lucky to see combined sales volumes of all e-ink readers hit a million units - unless PVI the sole manufacturer can really ramp up its prodcution that is.