The news is coming in today from Amazon that digital books on their popular Kindle e-reader are now outselling all print books on Amazon.com. Surely this signals the end of print books and the bricks and mortar stores that sell them, right?
Well, probably not. But it is a significant statistic.
Last July, Kindle sales overtook hardcovers on Amazon. When that was reported, Amazon sold 180 Kindle books for every 100 hardcovers on Amazon.com. That differential is undoubtedly much greater today.
In January of this year, Amazon reported that Kindle books had overtaken the sale of paperbacks. When that was reported, Amazon was selling 115 Kindle books for every paperback.
And today, Amazon is reporting a great milestone for digital content - Kindle books are now outselling hardcovers and paperbacks combined. The Kindle was launched in November of 2007, so that means this feat only took 3 1/2 years to achieve. For every 100 print books Amazon sells, they now sell 105 Kindle books.
Now, of course the "outselling" is based on number of units, not revenue. 790,000 of the 950,000 Kindle books available are $9.99 or less. Paperbacks and Hardcovers usually sell for more, anywhere from $10 to $17 in most circumstances. Amazon also notes that the 105 to 100 Kindle to Print ratio does not include free Kindle books - which would spike it up considerably.
"Customers are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books. We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly - we've been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years," said Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon.com."
Here are some more statistics concerning the Kindle:
- Only 5 weeks old, their ad-supported "Kindle with Special Offers" is already the bestselling member of the Kindle family. It retails for $25 less than the regular Kindle
- Amazon has sold three times as many Kindle books in 2011 than it did in the same period in 2010
- Amazon.co.uk is selling Kindle books and hardcover books at a near 2 to 1 ratio
- In the last 5 months, over 175,000 books have been added to the Kindle store.
Should we look at this as any sort of signal concerning the state of print books and bricks and mortar bookstores? Possibly. It is non-debatable that e-books continue to increase in popularity. And very few would argue against the upside of e-readers. I mean, they basically are one pound libraries.
But print books aren't exactly dying. Along with this release about the Kindle, Amazon also says that hardcover sales have grown as well. For many people, like this writer, the tactile nature of a print book is something with which I could never part. And the collection factor - having a physical personal library is also something that many people cherish.
And for the bookstore question, it is true that large bookstore chains have faltered as of late. A few months ago Borders announced it was filing for bankruptcy. Popular stores under the Joseph-Beth and Davis-Kidd names have also closed recently. The growth of online book retailers, with their ease of use and most of the time cheaper selections have definitely moved in on the territory of bigger booksellers.
But this has allowed for many small booksellers to flourish. They have been able to create a niche for book lovers with a combination of nostalgia and customer interaction. Small shops can specialize simply in books and can survive and even prosper due to low overheads. Big box stores have tried to do too much, both with size and variety of merchandise, according to some.
Hopefully, this announcement from Amazon signals a boost in reading in general, as opposed to some seismic shift in the book-buying landscape. Kindle and print can both survive and be vital to the growth of the book-reading population and both play a key part in the world staying smart and in turn not sucking.