Hot news this morning: as part of their fourth quarter sales announcement, Amazon revealed that Kindle books are now outselling paperback books by about 15 percent. A couple of years ago this would have triggered hand-wringing and doomsday prognostication about the death of publishing. Today, at least according to my Google Reader, people are taking the news in stride.
Personally, I’m not all that surprised. As a new Kindle owner myself, I don’t anticipate buying many paperback books – and if you think about the sales model for paperbacks, it makes sense. People generally buy paperbacks out of (1) cost-consciousness or (2) convenience – for instance, the urge to pick up reading material for a long flight, or on a whim at the grocery store or Walmart. It is impossible to grab a book at Amazon (unless you have a Kindle, of course – which is why Amazon has smartly started selling Kindles in several airports) which leaves the price point as the main reason most people would by a paperback on Amazon. Kindle books are generally as cheap or cheaper than paperbacks and have the advantage of instant delivery, so as more and more people pick up e-readers – Amazon also mentions that Kindle has officially become their top-selling single product ever, eclipsing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – I am not at all surprised that paperback sales are eclipsed.
What’s really interesting, is that Amazon says paperback sales have grown, not shrunk. Is this a sign that buying Kindle books makes people more interested in reading in general – and perhaps more inclined to pick up a book in paperback when they discover something interesting with no Kindle version? Or are those sales from people who have no other place to buy their paperbacks, as more and more physical bookstores have to close their doors?