28 Jan 2011
There's been a lot of debate about when we'll reach the 'tipping point' for e-books - the moment when digital editions become the norm and print is relegated to the 'also available as...' category. Well, it seems that Amazon is already there.
As part of its latest financial report, in which it announced its first $10bn quarter, Amazon mentioned that it is now selling more Kindle e-books than paperbacks, at a ratio of 1.15:1. This is for the company's US store.
This is the second milestone for the firm. In July 2010, the company said it was selling more e-books than hardbacks. Cynics said that, with the way the publishing industry was going, this was not a hard trick to pull off. But that trend has continued and Amazon is now selling three times as many e-books as hardbacks.
These figures are made all the more impressive by the fact that free Kindle e-books are excluded from the figures. Amazon has aalways been coy about how many Kindle devices it has sold, but it said sales of the third-generation model are in the millions. The number of e-books sold may have been boosted by the firm's 'buy once, read anywhere' strategy by which customers can read their e-books on a variety of devices aside from the Kindle, including iPads, and iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7 smartphones.
The Kindle store currently carries 810,000 books, with 83% of them priced at $9.99 or less. And people who buy books via the Kindle pay no delivery charges.
Amazon attributed its record sales figures to the growth of the digital channel. But it's worth mentioning a couple of caveats.
First, Amazon is an Internet business and you would expect digital publishing to fit well with its overall business model. I'm sure the significance of these figures for the publishing industry as a whole - including traditional bookstores - will be the subject of some lively debate.
Second, books are only a part of Amazon's business these days, and it's a fact that it makes better margins on sales of secondhand books, through its Marketplace feature, than new books direct from its own warehouses. How this will translate to digital is anybody's guess.