Amazon and Waterstones report downloads eclipsing printed book sales

Success of Kindle electronic reader prompts rapid rise of ebooks, with UK enthusiasm outstripping US

Like the death of Mark Twain, the demise of the printed book is greatly exaggerated, although the latest news from Amazon – which announced that it is selling more ebooks in America than print books for the first time – might suggest the nails are being readied for the coffin.

The company said that in the US it has sold 105 ebooks for every 100 print books since 1 April this year, less than four years after it introduced its Kindle electronic book reader. Amazon also released figures for the UK – where the Kindle only launched in August 2010 – which showed ebooks are now more popular than their hardback relatives, as Waterstone's also revealed that ebooks were outselling hardbacks by four to one.

However commentators warned the figures represent "volume not value".

Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, said the company was excited by the response to its Kindle range. "Customers are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books," he said. "We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly – we've been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years."

The announcement of Amazon's US success comes less than six months after its ebook sales eclipsed paperback sales. Ebooks overtook hardback sales in the country in July last year. Now it is outselling both printed forms combined.

In the UK, Amazon announced it had sold 242 ebooks for every 100 hardbacks since 1 April 2011. " customers are choosing Kindle books more often than hardcovers at a rate of more than 2 to 1," said Gordon Willoughby, European director at Kindle. "This is truly astonishing when you consider that we've been selling hardcover books from for over 13 years and Kindle books for only nine months."

A spokesman for said the figures included sales of hardback books where no Kindle edition was available, and did not include free Kindle downloads. He said the website was not publishing comparisons between paperback sales and ebook downloads.

The UK figures represent a quicker uptake of Kindle ebooks than Amazon saw in the US, although John Howells, spokesman for Waterstone's, said its own ebook sales had outstripped hardbacks for "quite a while".

"For every hardback we sell online, we sell four ebooks online," Howells said. "It doesn't really surprise us as we've been quite established as ebook sellers for some two and a half years now."

Nicola Solomon, general secretary of the Society of Editors, said Amazon's figures were not surprising, while Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of the Bookseller, said they might not reflect financial success. "It's an interesting headline. In actual money terms, though, I'm not sure that would be true, but principally because some of these ebooks are being sold at very low prices."

More than 650,000 ebooks are available at, which said its bestselling ebook titles in 2011 have included The Basement by Stephen Leather – priced at 49p – and The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris, which costs £1.20.

"It's a volume not value figure," Denny said, however he said the low prices of ebooks may not necessarily negatively impact authors. "It all depends on the deal. Although an ebook may be cheaper online, obviously an ebook doesn't have to sustain the cost of the print, production and distribution that the print book has to sustain."

Denny said the people "who are missing out are the traditional booksellers".

He said: "Every Kindle sold is a potential customer lost. You can't gloss over that fact."


Adam Gabbatt

The GuardianTramp

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