happy bookMEANWHILE, over at Amazon, some notable statistics emerged from this week’s Digital Book World conference. Perhaps most strikingly, Amazon says that Kindle book sales now outpace paperbacks:

In reporting its latest earnings, Amazon said that it was selling more Kindle books than paperback books, though the score is still close. Since January 1, for every 100 paperback books Amazon sold, 115 Kindle books were sold. To top it off, the company says that since the beginning of the year it’s sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. Amazon noted that this data was from “across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition.” It added that free Kindle books were excluded from the tally.

ULP. The author of this news story has a realistic outlook on how this will affect places like…Borders, say.

What’s this mean? Well, it’s not good news for brick-and-mortar bookstores. At the recently held Digital Book World conference, James McQuivey of Forrester Research presented some research findings before a CEO panel on Tuesday. He included the estimate that consumers spent about $1 billion on e-books in 2010 and that sales should reach at least $1.3 billion in 2011. McQuivey said that the consensus among those surveyed was that e-books would constitute half of all trade book units by 2014, and 53 percent said they expected print sales to decrease this year.

At least one guy, Mike Shatzkin, a conference organizer and head of the Idea Logical Company, said that within 10 to 12 years brick-and-mortar bookstores would “more or less disappear.” However, some believe that the “downsizing” of brick-and-mortar superstores might actually bode well for independent bookstores, which in some ways are better equipped to tackle what may indeed become more of a niche business in the years to come.


Curiously, with digital sales lagging far behind print sales, the comics industry is yet again an outlier.


  1. ” The company posted a slight dip in operating profit for the holiday fourth quarter despite revenue rising 36 percent, signaling the high cost of staying competitive in the highly promotional retail environment.” (Reuters)

    Hey! Comics retailers! You’re independent bookstores! Just as B&N has beefed up their Toys and Games section in stores to improve the bottom line, you’d better develop some sidelines now before those comics sales shrink into the Microverse!

    How many stores stock out-of-print and antiquarian books about comics? How many have a cafe or sell snacks? How many encourage people to hang out in the store? How many actually look like bookstores, and not the Android’s Dungeon? How many have a calendar of events?

  2. From the way the article is worded, it sounds like they’re comparing total Kindle format sales (regardless of if the book is available as a digital only, in paperback, in hardback, or in multiple formats) against the sales for all paperbacks by Amazon, and against the sales for all hardbacks by Amazon.

    Sounds like a formula that would weight the results in Amazon’s preferred direction.

    I’d be more interested in results that exclude digital-only titles, and compare digital sales of books available as paperback to the number of outgoing paperbacks, and digital sales of books available as hardcovers (maybe only as hardcovers) to the number of outgoing hardcovers. Also, how are Amazon’s physical sales year over year, and as a percentage of the total book market? Are the digital books sales that wouldn’t have been made otherwise, are they cannibalizing their own physical book business, or are they actually taking business away from other vendors?

    Amazon’s certainly pushing this ebook thing (and I’m sure all their warehouse staff appreciate that) so I’m not surprised they’re wording the news the way they do. But I’m not sure the sky is falling yet.

  3. @Joe – Exactly. The wording on all Amazon Kindle press releases is very dodgy, so you have to take it with a grain of salt.

    Of note: This is the first time that they’ve said Kindle sales numbers were EXCLUDING free titles. Previous claims have included the free downloads available from Amazon.

  4. Another way to look at this information: People buy from Amazon to get cheap books. Paperbacks are the cheapest versions of books. eBooks are usually even cheaper.

    I haven’t bothered to look them up, but I’d be really interested to see how Barnes & Nobles numbers were for the 4Q.

    Borders will be gone eventually, they have nowhere near the national footprint as Barnes & Noble, Barnes & Noble at some point may have to cut or downsize stores, but brick & mortar will never completely disappear. There will either be independent & specialty shops, used stores, or a B&N in your town, depending upon the size of your town.

    Paperbacks will get published less and less and hardcovers will transition to an item more akin to vinyl albums. It would be actually interesting to see if instead of doing a full paperback run, a publishing company might do something like subsidize a certain amount of paperback POD copies through lulu.com

  5. A thought that should make Amazon think a little: With the growth of ebook sales and it’s technology, it’s not impossible to foresee a near-future business platform where publishers or even savvy authors can sell direct to the consumer and bypassing Amazon altogether. Suddenly not such good news for Amazon.

    In the end, as always, it’ll be the format that appeals to the human condition the most. Will it be paper? Digital? Only time and the consumer will decide.