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eBooks Outsell Books for First Time

Gordon Kelly


eBooks Outsell Books for First Time

While the Amazon Kindle international edition may be the perfect example of how not to launch a product outside of its native country, that doesn't seem to be affecting sales.

Remarkably, Amazon reports the Kindle has become the most gifted item in its history. Furthermore - and potentially far more significantly - on Christmas Day, for the first time ever, it claims customers purchased more eBooks than physical books.

"We are grateful to our customers for making Kindle the most gifted item ever in our history," said Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. "On behalf of Amazon.com employees around the world, we wish everyone happy holidays and happy reading!"

Cut and paste public comments aside what do we make of this? Firstly, the eBook swing is vastly more important than the sale of any individual eBook reader. Secondly, given such a boast it is surprising Amazon chose not to publish the numbers for its eBook sales on Christmas Day. Thirdly, this is claim that does have a number of caveats.

Most notably, Christmas Day is not a day the average person would look to buy books. There's no post for a number of days, you're busy with relatives, you were just given new books. By contrast, if you received a Kindle the first thing you'd want to do is try and download a book or two to test it out - there's virtually no waiting time. So while book sales would be abnormally low that day, eBook sales should be abnormally high.

All in all, however, this does suggest the eBook phenomenon is really beginning to catch on. So what next? Well, I do think the format, price and availability of readers still has some way to go. Equally vital is the need for widespread acceptance of an open eBook standard much like MP3 and why oh why does each industry take so long to understand DRM doesn't work?!

Still, well done Amazon. With your coffers swelled perhaps now you can invest in a proper version of the Kindle for all us non-Yanks?


Press Release


December 29, 2009, 1:49 pm

That's all fine and dandy, but you don't actually *own* any DRM-ed books you download from Amazon; they're only *licenced* to you. Said licence is revokable by Amazon without notice -- see http://www.pcworld.com/arti...

I'll stick to the real thing, thanks.


December 29, 2009, 4:58 pm

ARGH! Why oh why is every tech site blindly reprinting this story with such glowing headlines? You even raise the point yourself, three quarters of the way through the story, that christmas day is NOT a day when people go on-line and buy books, period. They're either busy or waiting for the sales whereas if you get a kindle you MUST go and buy a book for it to be of any use. As for Kindle being 'the most gifted item ever in AMAZON history'... sorry, but something stinks here. If it was that amazing they'd be releasing numbers yet we just get vague PR spin. And of course it is only in Amazon history, iPods for instance (which took second spot) are available from a vast number of sources whereas Kindles only come from Amazon so it's going to skew the numbers badly. And then there's that weasel phrase 'most gifted item'. That sounds like a very odd phrasing to me, why not just say 'best selling' unless, of course, you're using a very odd statistic to back it up.

Look, I want eBooks to take off but right now I just don't think it's anywhere near 'catching on' as you imply. Until we see sales figures, until we see a genuine push for a sub £100 (or better yet, £50) eReader, until we see eBook prices approach something vaguely sane and, most of all, until we see eReaders appearing on the streets in the same way iPods did a few years ago it's a niche market for rich geeks (and possibly their relatives), period. If Amazon really want to prove the Kindle is all that and a bag of crisps then all they have to do is release the sales figures for device and eBooks. It's that simple. Until they do they're just trying to inflate the impact of the product in an attempt to build the hype.


December 29, 2009, 5:53 pm

The reason they're licensed to you is obviously for intellectual property protection and copyright issues. In a sense, something you own can be treated differently to something licensed. In this particular situation the main reason for the license prevents you from copying the book to somebody else. If you "owned" the book, this might be within your rights...Theres a reason for everything.


December 29, 2009, 6:01 pm

The fact that the numbers weren't released hints that they are pretty small. I don't see these things taking off until we've had exactly the same DRM fight that we had with music and are having with movies.

Every industry tries the same, use the move to digital to hike prices and remove customer rights, fortunately we seem to be doing OK so far.

I'll stick to paper for now....


December 29, 2009, 6:42 pm

@Xamph @darkspark88 - thanks for thank info, interesting. Of course no-one wants to 'licence' the electronic versions of books, they want to buy them. So it's still stupid ;)


December 29, 2009, 7:22 pm

@BOFH_UK - it isn't a glowing headline, it is simple fact. Whatever the numbers or time this trend will last it remains true that eBooks have outsold books for the first time. The article then agrees with the vast majority of the points you make to qualify what others have written up blindly.


January 2, 2010, 3:48 am

And there's still more to this than meets the eye.

Kindle is the 'most gifted' item purchased - not the 'most purchased'.

How do Amazon know?

Because there is an option when purchasing an item to have it sent 'as a gift'. This is a separate option from the normal purchase option - where the item is bought by the purchaser and sent to the purchaser's address.

The only way that Amazon could know that Kindle is the 'most gifted' item is by counting/comparing items purchased under this option.

Which - as others have pointed out - without firmer figures, this may well be barking at the moon.

If this is just hype, it is sad that an organisation as respected as Amazon should adopt the methods of Tin Pan Alley.

If this is more than hype, Amazon - I stand to be corrected!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Matt G Baish

January 7, 2010, 4:49 pm

"With your coffers swelled perhaps now you can invest in a proper version of the Kindle for all us non-Yanks? "

Erm - only if they bin the design & start again. Its hideous.

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