Amazon declares game over: E-books outsell hardcovers for the first time
Amazon announces a milestone in its campaign to put bookstores out of business, crush the human spirit and reduce humanity to intellectual slavery: The e-tailer now sells more e-books than hardcovers. But expert observers say: Hold on a minute.
“We’ve reached a tipping point,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, laughing maniacally.
Okay, so he wasn’t laughing maniacally — but he should have been. Bezos credited the “tipping point” to Amazon’s decision to slash the price on the Kindle, its e-reader device, from $259 to $189, boosting sales three-fold. In turn, that’s boosted the already fast-rising sale of electronic books.
“While our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format,” Bezos says. “Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books.”
Since January, Amazon reports, it has sold 143 e-books for every 100 hardcovers. These numbers do not include public domain titles–classics like Huckleberry Finn— customers can download for free, which would boost the figures even more.
In a quote that must warm Bezos’ heart, an assistant professor at the University of Washington tells NPR the shift to digital books is inevitable, saying the new sales figures “sounds like the beginning of the end.”
“It’s going to be a halting but probably steady forward path toward digital versions of what we used to think of as books,” Joseph Janes adds.
Not so fast. A closer look at these selective numbers is in order. For example, Ian Paul at PC World says, “Amazon’s e-book sales numbers only tell part of the story. E-book growth is strong, but physical book sales are still growing – albeit at a slower pace.”
While e-book sales have grown 207 percent so far this year, Paul reports, adult hardcover sales grew by 43.2 percent. And e-books are still a tiny portion of the market: $29.3 million in May, compared to $138.5 million for adult hardcover and another $58.1 million for children’s hardcover.
Amazon is also touting the news that several peak authors — Stephenie Meyer, Charlayne Harris, James Patterson, Nora Roberts and Stieg Larrson — have all sold 500,000 e-books. But Carolyn Kellogg at the Los Angeles Times wonders how many of these are backlist titles?
“When CDs began to outpace vinyl,” Kellogg writes, “music companies realized that they could sell the same original works to fans a second time, in a new format.” If that’s what’s happening with the Kindle –“readers purchasing much-loved favorites in a new format” — then the sales figures aren’t quite the death knell for the old codex they at first seem to be.
And the Wall Street Journal points out that while Amazon is one of the biggest booksellers in the country, “it still attracts an online audience that is more inclined to be early adopters of new reading technology.”
That means, impressive as the growth in e-book sales may be, that doesn’t necessarily mean its the beginning of a trend that will soon include most book customers. And since Amazon only releases sales figures selectively, as many of these experts observe, it’s impossible to analyze what they really mean.
So while e-books may be the future, that future is not quite here yet, no matter how much Jeff Bezos (Mwa-ha-ha-ha!) wants it t be.
Please join me in delaying that future as long as possible. How? Buy a printed book, and buy it at a local bookstore.