Kindle books outsell print books on Amazon

By Razib Khan | May 19, 2011 7:50 pm

Amazon: Kindle books outselling all print books
. This is more something I’d put on pinboard, but this requires noting more prominently. The figure itself isn’t important, but it is a marker for a silent transition occurring as we shift mediums.

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  • chris w

    Even as recently as this month, I’ve read comments by bibliophiles on varies news articles that people will “never” voluntarily sacrifice “the texture of the page and the smell of a new book.” As I expected, the majority do not share such sentimental affections for the smell of glue and chemicals.

    Books will always have a following among bibliophiles, much like vinyl does among audiophiles.

    I also remember people arguing that music consumers will “always” feel the need to own a physical object that represents an album.

  • Razib Khan

    jon bon jovi,

    Bon Jovi tells The Sunday Times Magazine, “Kids today have missed the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, closing their eyes and getting lost in an album; and the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on the jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like, and looking at a couple of still pictures and imagining it.”

  • Antonio

    Attachments, if any, should be toward old, used books :)

  • Antonio

    BTW, is kindle the best of its genre? Or are there better alternatives?

  • sog

    And not counting the “freely” downloaded books.

    Antonio, there is a huge controversy between backlit and e-paper screens. Personally I got a 7 inch android tablet and can read ebooks there (also in open formats) for as long as I want without getting sore eyes. And can watch video, surf the web etc and in color. and no awkward keyboard.

  • Epinephrine

    I have to admit that I really enjoy my e-reader, though there are advantages to actual physical books too. I didn’t think I’d adopt digital books so quickly, they are surprisingly enjoyable.

    @Antonio (#4); The kindle is vastly overhyped, and is notable only for two things: 3G access (with wikipedia in the USA) and reading only Kindle books. In the USA I could see it being handy because of the connectivity, but not elsewhere (and I live elsewhere).

    I personally like my Sony PRS650. One of the biggest advantages: can borrow e-books from libraries, which the Kindle can’t. People’s biggest complaint about the Sony – can’t buy books via 3G or Wifi, but must do it through a computer. I don’t mind, since I can hold so many books on it – just pack more than you intend to read. With a few hundred books in your pocket it’s less of an issue.

    Other advantages: More portable for the same size screen, reads more formats and can purchase books from multiple sites (Barnes&Noble, Sony, Chapters), handles .pdf files better (nice if you download journal articles), touchscreen, plenty of built-in dictionaries, the ability to categorize books as you wish, note taking in books (by highlighting, bookmarks, and freehand notes) that can then be searched and returned to, expandable memory (not needed for books as much, but for audiobooks), plays mp3s and can store and display photos in B&W.

  • mary

    My guess is that most of what Amazon sells for Kindle download is the pop culture best sellers, which is what the general population buys. The specialty niches of science, art, and classic publications would still sell in book form because those buyers want the ‘book’. Though that may be wishful thinking on my part. Libraries and and schools in my midwestern region are going whole-hog for digital because of finiancial reasons. My only consolation is that I’ll likely be dead before books disappear altogether. You now can’t get film or developing for old cameras. In their place we have photos stored on digital gadgets that are ubiquitous but generally not conveniently accessible. Soon people won’t know what they’re missing. C’est dommage. By the way, I just looked at my friend’s Nook and it’s a piece of crap.

  • ohwilleke

    This is something that I suspect would vary a lot by book or printed material subject matter.

    For example, lawyers have transitioned almost entirely to electronic form for case law in the last couple of decades. Almost the only people who have the once ubiquitous case reporters that once filled massive rooms in every decent sized law firm are firms that have left overs from the old days because they are several decades old, and law libraries at universities and state supreme courts.

    The transition to predominantly online formats for academic journal articles is a bit more recent but seems to be well on its way to catching up. I’m sure that more articles in the social sciences are read via SSRN than are read in hard copy these days.

    On the other hand, not everything translates well to an online format. I wouldn’t dream of buying an art history book in an e-book format, and prefer to have frequently used reference books and books with a high degree of formating with semantic meaning (like statutes and mathematical formula tables) in print.

    I am far too uptight, and I am sure that I am not alone, to bring a Kindle or Nook to a beach or on camping trip where water damage, impact shocks from bumping into things, and a lack of power hookups are potential concerns.

    The privacy issues cut both ways. Online porn has decimated its print and in person DVD counterparts in part because people don’t want to be embarassed by interacting with a real human being to buy it. On the other hand, most e-transactions leave electronic footprints that family members and business associates can find on a computer that a discretely hidden away book (or non-downloaded DVD) does not.

    Time horizons are another factor. I am still perfectly able to access the books inherited from my grandparents. I can say to almost a certainty that my grandchildren will not be readily able to access a Kindle format book. If one wants an heirloom, e-books simply don’t cut it.

    They say “the Internet is forever” and it is true that it is almost impossible to intentionally erase something completely once it is out there. But, it is also true that a huge amount of electronic content is effectively erased because its format becomes obsolete every decade or so.

  • Clark

    Until they make a waterproof kindle it’s of no interest to me. There are just so many places I want to read that is wet or in danger of being wet…

    I think the transition will be that books will primarily be large picture books for children learning to read and coffee table books that are more gifts or the like. The middle ground will disappear over the next decade the way the vinyl LP did.

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  • quidnunc

    “My guess is that most of what Amazon sells for Kindle download is the pop culture best sellers, which is what the general population buys. The specialty niches of science, art, and classic publications would still sell in book form because those buyers want the ‘book’. Though that may be wishful thinking on my part.”

    This was suggested often in the first wave of e-books. I think the only reason it didn’t catch on back in the mid to late 90s is the lack of devices to comfortably read with, which also limited the selection. Monographs in science were among the first to commercially arrive in ebook format through some of the university presses e.g. MIT Press had Cognet. Unfortunately few books in other areas arrived online until recently.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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