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Amazon ebook sales surpass print; book publishers cry April Fool’s


Have eBook sales reached the tipping point? April 1, 2011 marks a milestone of epic proportions in the publishing industry… and a not-so-very-nice April Fool’s Day for book printers as Kindle eBook sales surpassed print sales for the ecommerce powerhouse. Amazon.com in a press release on May 19, 2011, announced that as of April 1:

Today, less than four years after introducing Kindle books, Amazon.com customers are now purchasing more Kindle books than all print books – hardcover and paperback – combined.

Let’s just consider the timeline from introduction of the Kindle to acceptance of eBooks :

  • July 1995:  Amazon began selling hardcover and paperback books.
  • November 2007 (12 Years):  Amazon introduced the Kindle eBook reader and began selling Kindle eBooks.
  • July 2010 (3 years): Sales of Kindle eBooks exceed hardcover book sales on Amazon.com
  • December 2010 (6 months): Kindle eBooks surpassed paperback books to become the most popular publication format on Amazon.com.
  • April 2011 (3 months): As of the first of this month, for every 100 print books sold on Amazon.com, 105 Kindle eBooks are sold.

So, 16 years after Amazon starting selling printed books online, and a mere 4 years after the introduction of electronic books and its eBook reader, the eBook is dominating print… at least among Amazon’s customers.

Even Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, sounded surprised at how fast eBooks have overtaken print:

“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.”

This makes the 2007 Newsweek feature story about the introduction of the Kindle seem prophetic.

Nov 17 2007 Newsweek cover image on the introduction of the Amazon Kindle

Nov 2007 Cover story about Amazon.com's introduction of its revolutionary Kindle eBook reader.

Nov 2007 Cover story about Amazon.com’s introduction of its revolutionary Kindle eBook reader.

But does this mean a win for Amazon’s Kindle or just eBooks in general? With its proprietary, closed AZW format versus the open, device-independent EPUB format preferred by the publishing industry, the Kindle may eventually become the victim of its own success.The EPUB format is an open eBook format recommended by The International Digital Publishing Forum and offers the following advantages to publishers and consumers alike:

EPUB allows publishers to produce and send a single digital publication file through distribution and offers consumers interoperability between software/hardware for unencrypted reflowable digital books and other publications.

As it makes eBooks mainstream, Amazon is creating the market for eBooks– but the market craves choice and despises monopolies.

Nevertheless, today the Kindle is winning because of the device’s features like its built-in WhisperNet wi-fi network that allows a Kindle owner to instanteously buy and download an eBook from Amazon.com. The first time I was reading an eBook by my favorite author which ended on a cliffhanger, I appreciated the true power of the Kindle and where the competitors still need to go. As soon as I had finished the first book, I clicked on the Shop the Kindle Store link on my Kindle. In 60 seconds, I found the sequel I wanted, bought it with my pre-established Kindle account, and continued reading. Wow!

As Nate Hoffelder says in his August 2010 blog post “Why the “I hope Epub kills Kindle format” fanatics are fighting the wrong battle”:

Everyone who has been arguing Epub vs Kindle needs to step back and rethink how you’re advocating your preferred format. If you want Epub to win then start hawking the tools, not the file.

Today, Amazon’s tools in its Kindle device have allowed it to capture the dominant place in the eBook market. If there are flaws in your technology, it gives the competitors an opening to leapfrog past you.

For example, Kindle today really only works with text-only publications like novels. Don’t waste your money on a textbook or anything with images on it; they’re illegible. But this has as much to do with the quality of the digital book conversion as with the Kindle’s device limitations. Time will resolve these problems.

So, as Apple found out when Android starting outselling its iPhone, second-and-better mover can beat out the first-but-flawed mover who actually created the market in the first place. (Think how digital music downloads of MP3’s are killing CDs compact discs.)

Eventually, it’s not the device or the format that matters; it’s what we can do with it that will win the day.

QUESTION FOR MY READERS: Who will be the next “April Fool” whose hot current emerging media device becomes obsolete as the industry evolves? Answer in a comment!

 

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