The eBook reader market – currently largely restricted to the US – will expand globally from 2013.

ABI Research forecasts that more than 30 million readers will ship during that year, almost double the 2012 total.

The US eBook market has been led by the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony Reader, with the Apple iPad making significant progress.

“Digitized content is the key” says ABI principal analyst Jeff Orr.

“It has been in the US that the most content has been translated to digital form. The companies that provide the devices also maintain tightly integrated content stores that make access easy.

“In two or three years we will enter a period in which much more digital printed matter will become available in other countries and regions. Western Europe will be first, followed by Eastern Europe and Asia, especially China.”

While voracious North American eBook consumers may now own more than one reader so as to ensure a wide selection of content, the majority of readers made worldwide are in fact designed and manufactured in China (although they have not had much market impact beyond its borders.)

Amazon Kindle 3

China does face three barriers to eBook adoption: the lack of digital content, relatively lower levels of literacy, and device cost. For market success, says Orr, an eBook reader must be priced at less than US$100 equivalent. Once these obstacles begin to be overcome, China has the potential to be a major eBook market in its own right.

Most eBook readers today are fairly similar in design and performance, and competition is fierce.

This, along with the need to create an entirely new market, has been driving prices down sharply, reinforcing Orr’s argument that “The device brand isn’t as important as the content: success will increasingly depend on the strength of the relationship between reader and content provider. Non-US markets will be less driven by booksellers, and more by publishers and perhaps even network operators.”