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Monday, July 26, 2010

Kindle Sales Stats in Context

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of, recently released a statement announcing that sales of Kindle eBooks surpassed hardcover sales during the first half of 2010.

The statement touts the following facts:
  • Over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books.
  • In the past month, for every 100 hardcover books has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.
  • Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts have each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books.
Overall, Kindle eBook sales may be increasing, but it is debatable as to exactly how much more popular the new format is in comparison to hardcover books or how much of an impact this product is making in the global book market. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez of Digital Book World points out in his blog story, eBook vs. Hardcover: Beyond the Headlines, that the true success of eBooks compared to hardcover books is uncertain without specific purchasing information.

For example, it is not clear which titles consumers are buying as book selections vary between formats. A large percentage of eBooks for sale at have never been published in hardcover format. Romance novels, which account for a large number of Kindle eBook sales, are generally published as paperbacks. Additionally, readers who already own hardcover books from powerhouse authors may be purchasing their old favorites in the eBook format. Furthermore, Amazon’s consumers are immediately more inclined to purchase eBooks over those who prefer brick-and-mortar stores or other online venues as Amazon “attracts an online audience that is more inclined to be early adopters of new reading technology” (Gonzales, 2010).

However, even as eBooks are gaining ground over hardcover on, print editions of books are still far from losing their major place in the market. According to the American Publishers Association, industry-wide sales for print book editions are up, with hardcover books up 22% year-to-date and adult paperbacks up 16%¹. And according to Sarah Weinman at the Daily Finance (as cited by Gonzales), on average, eBooks make up for less than 1% of any given title’s total sales². For example, Gonzales cites Publishers Lunch stating that James Patterson has sold 1.14 million e-books to date worldwide. Of those, 867,881 were Kindle eBooks. However, in comparison to the more than 205 million print copies sold, Kindle eBooks only account for roughly 0.4% of overall sales³. Looking beyond Amazon’s press release, it’s clear that largely consumers still purchase print books.

As Gonzales shows, companies—via press releases and reports—can selectively share data to shape public perceptions and thus support their sales goals. Luckily, the continuing dominance of print books allows ample time for libraries to research and develop digital platforms before altering their core format preferences.

What do you think of Amazon’s recent press release? What research has your library done on eBooks? What is your library doing with the new format?

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