Amazon sells more ebooks than printed titles as Kindle takes off

Aug 6, 2012

Growth in ebooks faster in UK than in US, but Amazon is attacked for helping authors to self-publish

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AMAZON is now selling more ebooks than printed books in the UK, according to figures which show that the online retailer sells 114 titles to owners of its Kindle ereader for every 100 hard copies.

Amazon said the real ratio is even more in favour of ebooks, because its figures do not include the many copies of free, classic titles - such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen books - which Kindle owners download.

The Kindle was launched in the UK in August 2010 and has caught on more quickly than in the US, where it was introduced earlier.

Kindle EU vice-president Jorrit Van der Meulen said in a statement: "Customers in the UK are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books, even as our print business continues to grow. We hit this milestone in the United States less than four years after introducing Kindle, so to reach this landmark after just two years in the UK is remarkable and shows how quickly UK readers are embracing Kindle.

The Independent observes that the success of lower-priced ebooks is seen by critics as undermining the value of literature. Amazon also allows authors to self-publish, taking a small cut of the profits, through its Kindle Direct Publishing arm. This is blamed by some in the industry for driving down standards because traditional publishers are cut out of the process.

Crime writer Mark Billingham said at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate last week that the self-publishing industry was all about "shifting units" to "punters". The audience applauded when he said books were devalued if they were sold for "less than half the price of a cup of tea".

Amazon says it is also seeing growth in physical books, pointing out that people who get a Kindle buy four times the number of books they did before they owned the device - and continue to buy hard copies.

"As a result of the success of Kindle, we're selling more books than ever before on behalf of authors and publishers," said Van der Meulen.

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The audience applauded when he said books were devalued if they were sold for "less than half the price of a cup of tea".

Does that include the classics being downloaded for free? Is Pride and Prejudice less of a work of literature if I don't part with any money for it? Amazon's direct publishing arm is helping a lot of people to be published who otherwise would have gone undiscovered. True, it will mean the amount of dross produced will increase drastically, but I could say the same thing about printed books. There is an inordinate amount of rubbish printed and stuffed onto bookshelves and the price tag doesn't make them any more valuable as literature (the recent success of Fifty Shades of Grey being a timely example).

At least the kindle route means that real resources (trees, ink, petrol for shipping, etc) aren't wasted in the production of dross, nor in the production of quality work.