E-book Sales Surpass Hardcovers at Amazon


With analysts expecting Amazon's (AMZN) second quarter report on Thursday to be about as strong as the previous quarter, the company is drumming up some advance attention with what appear to be some eye-popping numbers about sales of its e-books and bestselling e-reader device, the Kindle.

I say "appear" because Amazon has a tendency to tout numbers that don't actually mean very much. In this case, however, the news marks an important milestone. It's significant that Amazon says for every 100 hardcovers sold through its site during the quarter, the company also sold 143 Kindle books. Even better that the differential increased to 180 e-books for every 100 hardcovers in the past month alone. Amazon also points out that those numbers apply only to e-books that customers paid for; factoring free Kindle books "would make the number even higher," the firm says.

The Tipping Point

And there's more: Kindle book sales have tripled over the past year, while
Kindle book sales in May and year-to-date through May exceeded the growth rates reported for that month by the Association of American Publishers -- 163% in May and 207% for the year.

"We've reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle--the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189," CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "In addition, even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books--astonishing when you consider that we've been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months."

Author, Author

Amazon also shared some concrete data about the country's biggest selling authors, although the information is limited in scope.
Last week, for example, Hachette Book Group (LGDDY) announced that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date worldwide. Amazon said Kindle books account for 867,881 of those sales, while four other blockbuster authors -- Nora Roberts, Stieg Larsson, Charlaine Harris, and Stephenie Meyer -- have also sold more than half a million Kindle books each.

The caveat? Each of these authors sell tens to hundreds of millions of print books around the world, so total e-book sales don't even approach 1% of print sales, and Amazon won't break down e-sales by specific title. Consider, too, that 630,000 books in the Kindle Store is but a fraction of the millions of copies of print books Amazon offers for sale. It's clear e-book market share continues to climb, but the medium still has a long way to go to catch print -- even for the company with the most dominant digital share of all. Still, today's news made Wall Street happy: Amazon shares rose 0.9% to $120.99.