Tech Trends: E-Books Outsell Print Books at Amazon; Thumbs Up for Kindle!

Tech Trends: E-Books Outsell Print Books at Amazon; Thumbs Up for Kindle! May 21, 2011

Well, it’s happened. It wasn’t unexpected. But it happened sooner than many pundits had predicted.

Amazon's Kindle, 3rd edition

The New York Times reports that Amazon since April 1, 2011, Amazon is selling more e-books than print books (hardcover and paperback combined).

“We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, in a statement. “We’ve been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years.”

Of course, since e-books are generally less expensive than print books, total sales of print books are still greater. But it’s not hard to read the trends.

Why has this happened? And why so much faster than most experts anticipated?

I can speak to this, not as a sociologist or a marketing expert, but as a happy Kindle user. I like reading books on my Kindle for many reasons, including:

• They are usually cheaper, sometimes less than half the price of a print book.
• They are very readable. The Kindle is about as readable as paper. In particular, unlike the iPad, it has no glare problems. You can read a Kindle in direct sunlight. Or, with a special cover, you can read in total darkness with a light that extends from the cover.
• I can take my Kindle books with me everywhere I go, for reading in waiting rooms, on planes, etc. The Kindle is especially helpful for folks who travel alot
• I can easily save excerpts, copying them on my computer.
• It’s fairly easy to underline key passages. It’s possible to make notes, though not easy.
• You can search a book for words or passages.
• Plus, I can read newspapers easily on a Kindle. They just show up in the middle of the night as if by magic. They can be read without dealing with the “oversize paper” problem. There are no ads. I don’t get ink on my fingers. I can read the paper easily while using an exercise bike.
• Plus, the Kindle is now very reasonable. I recover the cost of the Kindle in less than a year.

The downsides of the Kindle? I can think of a few:

• The Kindle will never smell like an old book.
• Kindle books cannot be easily loaned to a friend.
• If you underline on your Kindle, it ruins the Kindle and doesn’t touch the book.
• You can’t flip through a book to look for passages or to see how far you have to go in a chapter.
• Older Kindle books do not have page numbers, which makes them less useful for reviews and academic citations. (Newer Kindle books have page numbers.)

Plus, though I’ve never done it, I assume that spilling a cup of coffee on a Kindle or dropping it on the floor could be much worse than doing the same with a print book.

If I want to read a book, I always look for the Kindle version. If there is not a Kindle version, I often wait in the hope that there will be a Kindle version later on.

As you might imagine, I buy a lot of books in my line of work. I suppose I have been buying something like fifty books a year from Amazon for many years. Now, about 90% of my book purchases are e-books.

I know this isn’t altogether good news for book publishers. But there is a silver lining. I’m quite sure I buy more books now than I used to because they are so easy to buy and so easy to read.

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  • Rob

    Sorry. Not a Kindle fan. I’m a page turner. There is something about the sensory experience of a book. Plus, you don’t need a battery or a cord for a book. If you drop it you don’t worry if you broke it. If someone steals it, you’re not losing an entire library. A Kindle (or IPad) isn’t much to look at, but a library full of books? Ahhh.

    On a budget? I buy most of my books at thrift stores, used book shops and local library sales. Spurgeon’s commentary on the Psalms: .50 cents. Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy”: $1. Richard J. Foster’s “Prayer”: .50 cents. Am I a book junkie?

    Oh, yeah.

  • John Key

    I love Kindle, but sometimes I end up buying a hardcopy too to pass on to friends.  That’s my biggest downside for Kindle.  And I am not as adept as Mark at underlining, searching, returning to a passage, etc. but that is a skill I will have to further develop.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, if you have the time, then you can get some great book deals. Doesn’t work for current best sellers, though. So you also have to be patient.

    I have more books than I have space. Several hundred in the garage. And I gave about several hundred when we moved. So I’m happy not to have physical books because I have nowhere to put them.

    Actually, if somebody steals your Kindle, you don’t lose the library, just the Kindle.

  • Anonymous

    There is a learning curve on the Kindle, and on similar devices too.

  • Anonymous

    There is a learning curve on the Kindle, and on similar devices too.

  • Rob

    Yep. You’re right about the newer books. In your work I’m sure that’s an important factor. As for the sheer number of books, that can be an issue, too. I’ve got books all around the house, but my wife tolerates them. They’re cheaper than a red convertible!

  • Anonymous

    Indeed. I don’t have a red convertible, either. Just a red riding mower. That satisfies my need for manliness.

  • Rob