OK it’s the digital age and we’ve been told time and again that now—everything is different. Sometimes this is hard getting used to, particularly when we are talking about the digital age coming up against the most important invention of the modern era—printed books of the Gutenberg type.
Senior Analyst and Editor
But the world has indeed changed (again) this past July when Amazon.com (one of the top book sellers) reported that Q2 2010 sales of electronic books for the Kindle, Amazon’s e-reader, outnumber sales of hardcover books for the first time. Then on Sunday, the company announced its first "Million copy e-book seller Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo making the book a charter member of the "Kindle Million Club" with other top sellers, closing in on that number fast.
The details of the Amazon announcement said in Q2, the company sold 143 e-books for every 100 hard-covers, and the trend is growing. Amazon reported in the month of June (Summer reading month) that number jumped to 180 to 100 e-books to hard-cover editions. Add to this the fact that e-books only represent 630K vs. the untold millions of hard-cover books available for purchase, and you may agree with Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos. He calls this "…astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months."
Amazon also announced (yesterday) they have between 70% and 80% of the e-book market. This according to an interview with Amazon VP Ian Feed, in a CNET.com article, making Amazon appear to be the Gutenberg of the new age—or are they?
Truth be told e-books and electronic downloads of printed copy have been around a long time, and Steven J Vaughan-Nichols, of ITworld reminds us of Project Gutenberg 33K free and public domain e-books. He said recently in a PCWorld article, "Project Gutenberg , and e-books, dates back to 1971 long before there were even PCs, never mind dedicated e-readers or popular entertainment tablets like the Apple iPad" making the Amazon announcement somewhat parochial.
On the device side for Amazon, Freed boasted of a "two tripling" in Kindle device sales (the number of Q1-10 devices sold over the Q1-09 figure and their year over year growth rate tripled after the $189 device price drop in late June.) But analysts say this was mostly in response to competitive pressure, both in dedicated EBR devices, and what Amazon likes to call "general purpose tablets" like the Apple iPad.
But beyond Apple and other newbie’s in the space, traditional competition is nipping at the heels of Amazon too. Barnes and Noble Inc. is the world’s largest bookseller with over 700 book stores in the US (720 at last count), and operating some 600 plus college book stores (637 at last count)—giving the company great advantage in the e-book market. For example, a company press release yesterday said B&N is initiating a "More in Store" program "Available only in Barnes & Noble stores and only on NOOK, the free More in Store program offers NOOK customers new, exclusive content from bestselling and new authors, special offers and savings, and weekly bestseller and new release lists."
The "Nook" is an Android O/S based EBR tablet that has been well received, and takes a hybrid display approach, offering a dual screen (one with color.) By offering free Wi-Fi access in stores the company can facilitate e-book download sales in a traditional book selling environment—something Amazon cannot match.
Here’s how B&N CEO William Lynch said it: "…the role of our retail channel in the success of NOOK and eBooks, and the popularity of our in-store eReading features have crystallized this advantage." and "…utilizing its store footprint and innovative technology to add value to the customer’s eReading experience — including unique features such as digital eBook lending, free Wi-Fi connectivity, in-store browsing of complete eBooks and exclusive content, and more."
So there is no turning back from the popularity of EBRs and this new digital age way to read, share and grow, while Amazon, B&N and countless others are reshaping this space. Perhaps even inventor Gutenberg would approve of the shift that now offers the printed word with the click of the mouse or tap on the screen.