Amazon Announces Kindle Books Outsell Real Books

Tech bloggers say the numbers are misleading, but that doesn't mean they aren't impressive

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Has the e-book officially ousted dead-tree tomes? That's the gist of news from Amazon, who has announced that "on Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books." But tech bloggers are eying the numbers mistrustfully. Some observers think the old-fashioned book still has life left in it, while others retort that, despite the debunking of Amazon figures, this Christmas marked a milestone akin to the iPod's takeover:

  • Misleading Numbers--Of Course They Sold More on Christmas Day  Those receiving Kindles as gifts on Christmas Day, explains Ben Parr at Mashable, would naturally then buy digital books to try them out, elevating Kindle book sales. Simultaneously, "real book sales would be down. The Christmas shopping season would have passed and most people were concentrating on their families, not shopping, that day." So he calls Amazon's "Kindle is the most gifted item ever" announcement "mostly PR smoke and mirrors ...ebook sales still pale in comparison to the countless paper books that were sold this Christmas season."
  • Ditto--Also, Don't They Mean 'Rent'?  Techdirt's Mike Masnick makes the same point, and adds that "buying" e-books isn't really "buying." His argument: "When someone buys a physical book from Amazon, they then own that book and can do pretty much what they want with it, including reselling it or giving it away"--that's not the case with an e-book, which cannot be shared and can theoretically disappear at Amazon's command. "So," he concludes, "congrats to Amazon, for renting more books on a day when such rentals are to be expected and when physical book sales are probably at their very lowest."
  • Still Important Figures, counters The Business Insider's Henry Blodget. The numbers are impressive, especially considering that Amazon continues to lose money on Kindle books. The company's strategy "is clearly to drive 'ubiquity,' and based on stats like those above, it is succeeding. The more Kindle books Amazon sells, the more leverage it will have over publishers when it tries to force them to cut wholesale prices." That is not, Blodget emphasizes, "necessarily bad for publishers." If prices are cut, "sales velocity should soar.  Publishers and writers will make less per unit, but the increased volume should make up a lot of the difference."
  • Kindle Picking Up Steam  "What this still means," explains Wired's Charlie Sorrel, "is that e-books are now mainstream. The Kindle ... has that critical combination of brand awareness, catalog and full integration." He compares this to the iPod takeover of the mp3 player field: " It took the iPod and iTunes many years to become the number one music retailer in the US. The Kindle has overtaken the competition (Amazon) in just two years."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.