The Kindle was only released in November of 2007, just three-and-a-half years ago. By 2009, Kindle book sales briefly surpassed print sales on the day after Christmas. In July of 2010, the eBook format overtook hardcovers, and six months later, it surpassed paperbacks.
Today, according to Amazon, eBooks have surpassed print books entirely; they are selling more Kindle editions than they are selling from all of their print formats combined. Since April 1st, they've sold 105 Kindle books for every 100 print editions.
The speed is remarkable, but the outcome doesn't surprise me. I buy almost everything for Kindle now, unless it doesn't have a Kindle edition, or it has lots of pictures that I want to examine in detail. Which is to say, not many. Frequently, if it doesn't have a Kindle edition, I don't order it at all.
And like many Kindle owners, I've found that I buy more books than I used to. The impulse purchases are now completely irresistible: I can have the new memoir
about someone's dead tax cheat of a husband right this instant, rather than waiting two whole days
. . . by which time, I'll have forgotten about the Washingtonian excerpt that made me want to read it.
(And I'm glad I did. While the personal bits of the memoir are not very well written, and exude overprivileged bewilderment to an extent that made me want to join the Communist Party and head to the ramparts with my pitchfork, the business bits are actually a pretty good study of what happens to an unsophisticated journalist who tries to a) run a small business with which she has no experience and b) survive a lengthy IRS investigation. Score one for impulse buying.)
I'm pretty sure the print book's days are numbered for anything except specialty applications. The die-hards will cling for a while, but ultimately, book buyers are already an extremely affluent group, and the convenience in acquiring, porting, and storing your library simply overwhelms the drawbacks, especially as Amazon has introduced innovations like eBook lending.
But it will change a lot of the dynamics of life for book people. My first adult books were pulled from my parents' giant trunk of mystery novels, and the shelves in their bedrooms--will there be a family Kindle account, and will they be able to control access to the juicy stuff? Peter and I are already wondering if we shouldn't merge our Amazon account, but do I really want my archives cluttered up with his comic books and movie tomes? Does he want to have to scroll through a long line of trashy police procedurals? What will happen to the pleasures of pulling a random book from the shelves of a home where you are a weekend guest?
They'll be replaced by other pleasures, like instant gratification. And it's probably more gain than loss. But I'm just a little bit sad, all the same.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down