Six or More Reasons Why eBooks are Outselling Print

In looking at the poll results I just ran on “What emerging media bandwagon have you refused to jump on yet?”, 22% of the respondents reported that they had yet to try eBooks. These results are particularly surprising in that the poll respondents were skewed to graduate students in an emerging media class, who might be more likely to be first adopters of new media.

However, if they haven’t tried eBooks yet, the odds are they will within the next 12 months or so. Why are eBooks outpacing print books?

The pace of adoption of eBooks is nothing less than startling. In May 2011, Amazon announced that as of April 1, Kindle eBooks were outselling all print books on the ecommerce giant with a ratio of 105 eBooks to every 100 print books.

Here’s a handy timeline put together by the folks at Passive Voice that outlines the rapid rise of eBooks, owing a lot to the power of Amazon and its integrated WhisperNet technology that allows buying books directly from the Kindle itself:

  • November, 2007 – Kindle and Kindle Ebooks Introduced
  • July, 2010 – Kindle Ebooks Outsell Hardbacks
  • January, 2011 – Kindle Ebooks Outsell Paperbacks
  • May, 2011 – Kindle Ebooks Outsell Hardbacks and Paperbacks Combined

If you are a print-only publisher, this story becomes even more daunting with some of the other figures outlined by Amazon in its May press release:

  • Since April 1, for every 100 print books has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
  • Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books so far in 2011 as it did during the same period in 2010.

So what makes an eBook superior to a print book? PC World’s Tony Bradley offers Five Reasons Amazon E-Books Are Outselling Hardcovers:

1. Cost. While the introduction of competing platforms, and an uprising among publishers has led to more variable, and slightly higher pricing of e-books, in general they are still cheaper than the printed equivalent–whether hardcover or paperback.

[PERSONAL NOTE: I have not found eBooks to be cheaper yet. They used to be on Fictionwise until Barnes & Noble bought it and eliminated the membership pricing and large purchase discounts. Amazon I found charges more for a Kindle book than that same print book sells for at a Walmart store!]

2. Portability. With a Kindle or an iPad or a Nook, or any of the various other e-reader devices, you can carry an entire library with you… The standard Kindle can hold up to 1,500 books…

3. Accessibility. E-books can be purchased or downloaded anywhere your e-reader device can get a connection to the Internet. With e-books, [once you finish a book and want another one,] you can surf your options online and have the new book in a matter of seconds.

#3 Accessibility sold me on the eBook format when I came to the end of a book by a favorite author which ended in a cliffhanger to be resolved in the sequel which was just out. I wasn’t anywhere near a bookstore, but with my Kindle, I found the sequel, bought it, and kept reading in under 60 seconds. Wow!

4. Cross-Platform. Many of the e-reader platforms provide apps for a variety of platforms. Aside from the Kindle device itself, Amazon offers apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows, and Mac OS X. You can access your library from virtually any device..

[Other devices like the the iPad offer] a single device capable of reading all [the different e-book formats including Apple’s iBooks, the Amazon Kindle app, or the Barnes and Noble eReader app] and accessing each book store from anywhere the iPad can connect to the Internet.

5. Conservation. E-books provide conservation in two ways. The first is the typical green, save the Earth, stop killing trees just to print books… The second method of conservation, though, is the conservation of space and clutter. Books take up space. The more you have, the more shelves you need.

#5 Conservation of space became important to me when I had to move for the fourth time in 6 years. I was able to get rid of almost all of my print books, similar to my purge of LPs when CDs came out.

I would add another feature, #6. Privacy. With a print book, everyone can see what you are reading in public, unless you get a book cover. With eBooks, you can read anything and everything with no one the wiser, so enjoy your beach-read trash or high-brow Tolstoy at lunch or on the subway. No one will know either way!

What I have not found to be good yet is the quality of images on eBooks. An e-textbook with screenshots in it was illegible and was a waste of money, so I have had to revert to print books for anything involving images. This has to do with poor conversion processes, particularly on PDF eBooks. Once the conversion process is standardized and improved and the readers like iPads deliver a better technological zooming/ browsing experience to look at images, I believe that this problem will be resolved. In the meantime, I will stick to buying novels on my eReader.

QUESTION FOR MY READERS: Can you think of other upsides and downsides of eBooks? Add a comment and share your thoughts!


One response to “Six or More Reasons Why eBooks are Outselling Print

  1. I’ve been an avid reader all of my life. My husband keeps asking me if I want a Kindle, for many of the reasons you outlined in your post. I keep telling him no; I see myself as a die-hard bibliophile.

    However, I do see the advantages, particularly No. 3 on your list. There have been many times I’ve finished a book and want to read the next one in the series but have to wait until I get it in the mail. The instant gratification of getting the next installment within seconds makes purchasing a Kindle pretty irresistible.

    It looks like this year may be the Kindle year for me. But, I so love turning the pages, running my hand over the bindings, smelling that great book smell … I won’t get that with a Kindle.


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