Signs of the times for the future for e-books

kindle-booksI have a Kindle, the digital e-book reader from Amazon who launched the third-generation model last year. Actually, my whole family has Kindles. We also have stacks of printed books. We’re not especially wedded to format, more the content and that content being available to us in formats we like, aren’t too expensive and are convenient to use.

Basically, we’re big on books and other content – which includes magazines and blogs – however they’re offered, not platforms and delivery formats. That said, there’s something quite compelling about a device that weighs less than a pound that can hold 3,500 digital books, and that lets you make comments and annotations on what you’re reading (I love that feature) and share them online if you wish

So while a debate goes on about print vs digital, news came from Amazon a few days ago that customers are now purchasing more Kindle books than all print books – hardcover and paperback – combined.

In its press release on May 19, Amazon includes some choice metrics:

  • Since April 1, for every 100 print books has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
  • So far in 2011, the tremendous growth of Kindle book sales, combined with the continued growth in Amazon’s print book sales, have resulted in the fastest year-over-year growth rate for Amazon’s U.S. books business, in both units and dollars, in over 10 years. This includes books in all formats, print and digital. Free books are excluded in the calculation of growth rates.
  • In the five weeks since its introduction, Kindle with Special Offers for only $114 is already the bestselling member of the Kindle family in the U.S.
  • Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books so far in 2011 as it did during the same period in 2010.
  • Less than one year after introducing the UK Kindle Store, is now selling more Kindle books than hardcover books, even as hardcover sales continue to grow. Since April 1, customers are purchasing Kindle books over hardcover books at a rate of more than 2 to 1.

Does this look like a trend that spells the demise of traditional print? Some may argue so. Personally, I don’t think so – as long as the business of traditional print evolves to match the changes in market conditions that technology has brought about, in a big picture sense, as well as changes in people’s habits and preferences about content consumption that devices like Kindle and tablet computers (think of the iPad especially) have enabled.

There are some very interesting developments that show how print and digital could live in harmony for the foreseeable future. How libraries might evolve, for instance, and offer e-books on loan as they do with traditional printed books. Or lend a book directly to a fellow Kindle user.

These are brilliant ideas and I look forward to the day when I can do that in the UK. In the meantime, time to browse the Kindle Store for another book…


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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.