Amazon Now Selling More Kindle Books Than Hardcovers

Hardcover books have a lot going against them — they’re expensive, often unwieldy, easily damaged. And now Amazon.com, which first made its name by selling books at deep discounts online, says it sells significantly more titles for its Kindle e-reader than it does in hardcover.

Quoth Jeff Bezos, King of the Amazon:

The Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format… Astonishing when considering that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years and Kindle books for 33 months.

According to Bezos, the site sells 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcovers it sell. Amazon didn’t release specific sales or revenue figures, nor did they say how Kindle books were doing in comparison to paperback sales.

A big factor in the recent uptick in e-book sales for Amazon was likely its decision to drop the price on the Kindle to $189 earlier this summer, sparked by the introduction of Apple’s iPad and the price cut on Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader. With the price cut, the device can now reach a wider audience, which in turn leads to more e-book sales.

One analyst tells the L.A. Times that Amazon has nothing to fear from the iPad audience just yet:

There’s a real perception that the iPad has completely squashed the e-reader space, and that’s really not the case… Amazon is doing really well and both companies can profit at the same time.

Amazon.com says it’s selling 80% more downloaded books than hardcovers [L.A. Times]

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  1. kromelizard says:

    By what standard is a hardcover book “easily damaged?” Dunk it in water and it’s still useful, the same could hardly be said for an e-book. In fact, one of the virtues of print copies is that they’re orders of magnitude MORE durable.

    • ColHapablap says:

      Yeah, I misread that first sentence and thought they were referring to the Kindle. Though I guess it’s not particularly unwieldy.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      Complete agreement. I’ve seen paperback books easily damaged, but you have to be brutal to a hardcover in order to really damage it.

    • SunnyLea says:

      Bindings fail (especially cheap ones, which is just about all I see these days). Dunk it in water and it will actually be most likely to warp and then mold. Mice and silverfish have no interest in an e-reader.

      An e-book (not the reader, mind, the book) can’t really be “damaged” at all short of a data corruption, and can often be stored in a couple of locations for safe-keeping.

      Also, with my waterproof case handy, it is actually easier and safer for me to read an e-reader in certain situations (bath, beach, inclement weather) that it is to do the same with a physical book.

      And it weighs less. That’s apropos of nothing, but it’s still true.

      (And for all that, I *still* own close to 1k books after multiple cullings in an attempt not to have to move them all, but really, there are advantages to e-books. Many.)

  2. Griking says:

    I guess I’m old fashioned but I’d prefer to have a book that I can save on a book shelf when I’m done reading it.

    • Sandtigrr says:

      I preffered that too at one point. But when my house started filling up with books and about the fifth time I moved a big box of books with a messed up back I was done. The rooms in my house now look less like a library and more like a home. But I still have the majority of my books on my Kindle. Which sits next to my couch when I’m not carrying it with me of course. :)

      • drizzt380 says:

        But a library is a home!!!

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          No, a library is not a home. Once I felt this way as well, and then I realized that my “library” was just taking over and that there’s a reason why people have separate rooms they call their libraries, and books don’t start accumulating elsewhere.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        This is my situation, too. I live in an apartment I share with Mr. Pi and all of our stuff. It’s not just my space, or his, and by filling it to the gills with books that neither of us had touched in years, we were denying ourselves actual living space. Now we’ve kept it to two bookshelves that are only actually half full of books (other decor things go there too), and our home is so much more open and less cluttered.

      • FigNinja says:

        Yep. Decluttering and consuming less paper were part of the Kindle’s appeal to me. Plus, I have very severe dust and mold allergies. Old books make me sneeze.

  3. Zeratul010 says:

    Everybody seems to be avoiding looking at the minor fact that hardcover != paperback. I don’t have much trouble with the idea that people want cheaper versions (usually) of something that costs $15-30 in hardcover format, but I can’t imagine that was a really robust market to begin with. Show me sales figures of ebook vs. paperback, and then we’ll talk.

    • jessjj347 says:

      Huh. Good point.

      Also, even though ebooks may outsell hardbacks, that doesn’t take into account books that are borrowed/rented from places like libraries.

  4. Sandtigrr says:

    I had a Sony ereader and after 6 months decided I needed something compatible with the Kindle purchases. Which one I bought came down to a few factors: 1) Books I bought had to be readable on other devices (I upgrade periodically and didn’t want to lose my books), 2) Screen had to be a decent size (older eyes after years of reading), and 3) Low/no glare (eye strain was bad after a few hours reading the sony touch). I looked at the ipad but the screen was too shiny and it was too heavy for me (also wasn’t in stock in the 2 apple stores near me). Ultimately I went with a Kindle DX Graphite that was just released. I’m glad I did because the screen is amazing and the battery life is VERY good.

    • Wiggs says:

      So, let me get this straight. Your #1 concern was that your books should be readable on other devices, so you bought a device that makes sure that you can ONLY ever use one type of device?

      List of eReaders that use ePub format: http://www.epubbooks.com/ebook-readers

      List of eReaders that use Kindle format: Kindle, Kindle 2, Kindle DX, iPhone/iPod, PC

      I think I must be confused about your statement. Please to be explaining?

  5. Doncosmic says:

    The Ipad is good for Amazon, the kindle sales itself aren’t where the money is, the book sales are. Since the Kindle store has the best selection of any of the e-book stores, I pads will only generate more sales for Amazon

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      Exactly. I buy books both on the iBooks store and on the Kindle store on my iPad. I still prefer the Kindle store, so it’s not like Amazon lost me as a customer when I gave my Kindle to my wife.

  6. Geekybiker says:

    If ipad users download the kindle app and buy there instead of the apple store, Amazon still wins. Hardware has to be mainly an ends to sell software for them.

  7. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    I own far more paperbacks than hardbacks. They’re more space-effective and much more portable than hardcover books.

    DRM and compatability issues have kept me from getting any sort of E-Reader so far. Though… I tell people it’s because When the Zombies Come, I will still be able to read my analog books.

  8. Marshmelly says:

    People buy hardcover books? I can’t imagine spending $25+ dollars on a book…unless it was only available in hardcover and I just couldn’t wait until it came to paperback haha. Most of the time I take it one step further and wait till books go to mass market paperback, which are usually around $8 :) I never really understood how the same book could be available for $25, $14, and $8. I guess it all depends on preference and packaging.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      These days, I only buy hardcovers from Amazon with a “pre-order price guarantee” type deal–I typically pay less than $20 for a $25+ hardback, and often closer to $10-15. But I typically only buy three authors in hardcover to conserve space on my already over-crowded bookshelf.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      Well, unless it’s one of my favorite author’s new releases (which aren’t usually hardcover, anyway) and I’m VERY excited about it – I just wait a month or two and buy it froma 3rd party seller or on sale at Borders (using a coupon)

    • jessjj347 says:

      A lot of times for university courses, only hard covers are available.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I haven’t seen a hardback priced at $25 in years. It’s one of the reasons why I find it hard to support locally owned bookstores – their prices can’t compete with Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If it was a difference of $3, I’d be more inclined to buy a book at my locally owned bookstore; most locally owned bookstores charge full MSRP, and it’s more like a $12 difference. Amazon and B&N both sell new hardbacks for $17 maximum.

    • Cyniconvention says:

      Ironically enough, a book I want just came out today; Borders lists it for 17.25 and the other big book stores list it for 12$, and it’s hardback.

      but it’s a juvenile book, and not very well-known so I doubt it could be placed over 20$.

  9. saerra says:

    Ha! That’s what I thought too – clever marketing, comparing to “hard covers” as opposed to “all physical books”.

    And I like real books better too. You can buy them used (usually cheaper than ebooks) AND resell them when you’re done! Plus you can often check them out for free at the library! Frugality ftw!

    • SunnyLea says:

      You can check out e-books free at many libraries, too. Also, sites like feedbooks offer absolute tons of classics for free!

      I’ve owned an e-reader for 6 mos and only purchased 2 books for it.

      • the atomic bombshell says:

        I got mine at the end of May, and just purchased a book. But only because I had a coupon code…

        I’m having trouble keeping up with all of the e-books at the library. :)

  10. saifrc says:

    I agree that comparing Kindle book *unit* sales to hardcover unit sales doesn’t necessarily mean that much. After all, many of those Kindle books may be just a couple of dollars, compared to, say, $20 or $25 for a new hardcover. It’ll be more noteworthy when the Kindle-edition of a new release outsells the hardcover of the new release, during the same period of time prior to the paperback release. (That’s one way to control for the effects of first-degree price discrimination). Still not a perfect comparison, because the Kindle-edition will no doubt have a lower price, but it will still be very telling.

    I definitely am an e-book convert. I still enjoy interacting with “real” books, made with real paper, but I just got sick of carrying books around. I chose the Kindle 2 because I was a fan of Amazon’s business model for publishing and book sales, and because I thought it was the slickest device on the market (although the Sony Readers were very cool too). In the end, I’m glad that I ended up choosing the Kindle ecosystem, because I now read my Kindle books on my Kindle 2, my iPad, my iPhone, my Fujitsu Lifebook, my MacBook Pro, my…you get the picture.

    I know they had (and still have) an investment to recoup, but I think Amazon would have been brilliant to fully follow the razor blade model. Give people a free Kindle device, but require that customers buy 10 books up front, and then a book every few months thereafter (or something like that). It would really do a lot to promote the public uptake of e-books, and it would give Amazon the leverage (which they lost a little, recently, in the wake of the iPad) to set public expectations of what an e-book should cost.

  11. suez says:

    And yet I can read a hardcover book published 100 years ago. Let’s see if they can say the same in 5 years…

    • suez says:

      Oh yeah, and when I’m done with it I can give it to someone else or resell it or donate it or even use it as toilet paper when the Zombies attack.

    • jessjj347 says:

      I end up printing all of the journal articles (PDF, web-based, etc) I read and putting them in binders. It wastes a lot of space and is a bit hard to organize, but I feel that in ten years it will be worth it. So far, I have a terrible track record with keeping digital documents organized and saved years later.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Personally, I’m planning to become illiterate within the next 3 years.

    • FigNinja says:

      Well, if you stay on top of converting to new formats, you should have a copy that hasn’t degraded, unlike the paper copy. The problem with this is that, while it’s actually very easy, most people aren’t technically aware enough to do it. They could do it if they decided to but many people are too intimidated by a new technical process to even try.

      I strip the DRM off of all my books for archiving purposes. (I’m not a pirate. I don’t upload. I support authors’ rights.) It takes literally a few seconds. At that point, it’s pretty easy to make sure I have all my books in a current format. I use Calibre, which is an excellent, free (but please donate) ebook library managing tool. I can keep my books organized, tagged, and easily convert them to other formats. Besides, formats don’t change all that often so it’s not like this is particularly onerous. It will likely be years before I’ll have to think about converting the files to something else.

  12. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Here’s my thoughts –

    When I purchase a book from Amazon, I almost always use the 3rd Party Sellers that are selling a decent used copy for $1.00. I do have Amazon Prime, but it’s still so much cheaper to purchase used books for myself. I imagine a lot of others do the same thing.

    I’m guessing these don’t count towards Amazon’s Hardcover Sales.

  13. Kitty Conner says:

    What does the popularity of cheap and/or free titles you can “buy” for Kindle do to these numbers? Given the number of classic books, first-in-the-series-freebies, publisher’s deals, etc. you can “buy” without paying (or paying much), this volume data without the corresponding sales or revenue is nearly useless.

    Which isn’t to say I don’t love love love my 1st gen Kindle and the massive quantities of random freebies I’ve read.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Yeah, this. I spent the weekend pillaging the free section and each time I got a $0.00 book it counts as a sale and sends me an email confirmation of my purchase.

      There are also other shenanigans like most free titles being listed multiple times, multiple editions of the same free books, poorly converted books, etc etc but, hey, can’t beat free unless ya pay me.

      • "I Like Potatoes" says:

        The free books make the Kindle (or any other e-reader) SO worth it, in my opinion. There are so many classics I plan to read with this thing. I’m currently reading Middlemarch – a book that, if I purchased a paperback version, would have over 800 pages. I love that the Kindle is so much easier to read than a big, fat book (and being able to control the font size is delightful).

  14. Kia says:

    Sigh, that’s kind of depressing. As a big traveler I do appreciate having an ereader, but when I’m home I immensely prefer a good hardcover. There is nothing like the feel and scent of a good, new book, and it’s really depressing to look forward to losing that sometime in the future.

  15. Bort says:

    I think this proves people are more interested in digital reading then the fact amazon ‘owns’ everything they pay for, and will revoke it at their pleasure

  16. dreamfish says:

    I wonder if the official definition of poverty will be changed to include someone who either doesn’t own an ebook reader or can’t afford one.

  17. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I can’t afford an e-reader. I can afford used hardcovers and I can resell them if I want to, which isn’t possible with a DRM-protected file on a Kindle or Nook.

    They’re fine if you like that but not for me right now.

  18. donssword says:

    Funny… I keep buying hardcover collections of book series I have always wanted to read so that I have a durable edition I can take with me anywhere.

    Didn’t realized hard covers books were such a liability.

  19. cozynite says:

    There are several books that I lend out to friends and vice versa. How are you supposed to do that with an e-reader?

    I still don’t see enough appeal for me to purchase one. I like actually holding a book and flipping the pages. Also, I like to see what other people are reading on the train or out and about. Sometimes, the cover will look interesting and then I’ll look it up and put it on my to-read list. Hard to do that with an e-reader.

  20. Alex Hope says:

    It doesn’t surprise me. In time to come I believe we’ll see the slow death of new paper books. I predict the book in 20 years will be like the LP today, loved by the enthusiasts…