E-Book Sales Pass Print on Amazon

Critic: 'One more nail in the coffin' of traditional bookstores

Headshot of Emma Bazilian

While the Rapture isn’t scheduled to occur until Saturday, according to members of certain religious fringe groups, it looks like doomsday has come early for publishers of print books.

Amazon announced Thursday that sales of e-books on the site have finally surpassed combined sales of hardcovers and paperbacks. For every 100 print books sold since April 1, the company said, it sold 105 digital ones, and credited the surge in e-book sales to its new ad-supported, lower-priced Kindle. “We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “We’ve been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years.”

The vice president for Kindle content, Russ Grandinetti, claimed that the digital trend is actually good for publishers. “Even though some digital sales may be substitutions from print, one of the great impacts . . . is people spend more minutes a day reading. They make reading more of a habit, and that’s good for the total book business,” said Grandinetti.

But Mike Shatzkin, CEO of the Idea Logical Company, which advises publishers on digital matters, isn't buying it. “[Amazon is] taking print sales away from others while their own devices are taking print sales away from them. That’s the real import of those numbers. It’s one more nail in the coffin of brick and mortar stores,” he told The New York Times.

Still, publishers shouldn’t lose hope just yet, some analysts say. According to Forrester Research, e-books account for only 14 percent of all consumer fiction and nonfiction books sold. “E-book reading is a big deal, and it’s going to continue to be even bigger,” said a Forrester analyst. “But we are not to the point where e-books are a majority of unit sales and certainly not a majority of revenue.”

@adweekemma emma.bazilian@adweek.com Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.