Netbook sales have grown 264 percent year-over-year, while overall the notebook market has dropped 5 percent in that period, according to DisplaySearch. Netbooks, which represented 11.7 percent of notebook sales in Q2 2009, were the only category other than Portable PCs (those with displays from 13” to 16”) to post Q/Q growth. Netbook sales broke $3 billion in Q2 2009. One of the prime drivers for netbook sales has been a continually falling price. While in Q2 2008 the average sale price (ASP) of a netbook was $506. In Q2, the ASP had fallen 29 percent to $361. When netbooks are taken out of the equation, overall notebook ASPs only fell 10 percent, from $867 in Q2 2008 to $781in Q2 2009. But adding netbooks to the overall sales makes the market change a bit more striking: portable PCs (notebooks and netbooks combined) have seen their ASPs drop from $849 to $688 in the past year, a decline of 19 percent.

“[T]he lower ASPs of these devices are clearly having a negative impact on portable PC market revenue,” said John F. Jacobs, Director of Notebook Market Research at DisplaySearch.

Netbooks are now 22.2 percent of portable PC shipments, but only 11.7 percent of revenues. DisplaySearch predicts that these numbers will drop slightly but remain consistent in shipping/sales ratio 2010.

It’s hard not to see in these figures the cannibalization analysts so fear. We need to wait until the economy and consumer spending habits recover until we can truly know how much the market has been altered.

People have been buying PCs whose specs surpass their requirements for ages now, especially in the portable market, while for higher-end needs like media production or gaming, portables have typically cost $1000s more than a desktop equivalent. There’s a whole strata of potential users who would switch to a nice portable rig if its price was comparable to a desktop.

Desktops are dying, and the value-driven end of the portable PC market continues to drop in price and rise in popularity. The best things manufacturers can do is bridge the gap between luxury and budget notebooks, driving down the price of desktop replacements and gaming rigs so that the financially average user can afford them.

By Mathieu Ramage