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Summary:

E-books are growing in popularity, as Amazon is fond of pointing out. Despite that growth, pundits are boldly predicting the end of physical books, but looking at the numbers makes it clear that e-books aren’t replacing the paper variety any time soon.

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E-books are growing in popularity, as Amazon is fond of pointing out. Despite that growth, pundits are boldly predicting the end of physical books, but looking at the numbers makes it clear that e-books aren’t replacing the paper versions any time soon. The e-book sales number from Amazon comparing digital to physical book sales only includes hardcover books, and when you factor paperback books into the statistics, the digital versions represent only a fraction of total book sales.

The death of the book meme started gaining traction due to Amazon’s recent statement that it’s selling more Kindle books than hardcover books. This is certainly impressive, but the devil is in the details. Hardcover books only account for 23 percent of all physical book sales; the vast majority of dead-tree books sold are paperback books. Amazon only represents 19 percent of the total book market, but a full 90 percent of the e-book market. That tends to skew the sales numbers in a big way toward the digital book sales numbers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Amazon is lying about the numbers, as one blogger has suggested, but you have to look at the big picture to understand that physical books aren’t going away any time soon.

Paperback books are loved by millions, and the rising popularity of e-books doesn’t change that. You only have to look at my own household to see both sides of the equation: My wife buys as many paperback books as I do e-books, and that’s a healthy number. I prefer the digital reading experience over that from traditional paper books, but don’t try to pry my wife’s book out of her hands. She’s tried reading digital versions of books but always returns to the old-school paper variety quickly, as she likes the feel of a good book in her hands. She’s not alone in that regard, so sales of physical books will continue as always, in spite of the rise of the e-book. Perhaps Amazon should make a Kindle with a back that feels like a paperback book?

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Analyzing the Social E-book

The Week E-books Won the War

As E-book Sales Grow, So Does Disintermediation

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  1. I Love the idea of digital books but currently they are useless to me. I think in the future when they can add these features than it will overtake the Physical book market:

    1) Annotate and highlight right in the eBook – instead of in a separate screen.

    2) Video and audio right in the eBook.

    3) While still using Digital Ink so that the reading experience is easy on your eyes.

    4) And all this needs to sync across all devices.

    That would make eBooks very useful and needed.

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  2. James, in the coming decade I see several struggles developing between those that move to the new “green” technologies and those that stick to the old environmentally unsustainable technologies.

    How long will we be able to carry folks that insist on driving gas cars instead of e-cars and forest shredding books instead of e-books?

    We’re even coming to the brink of corporations delivering printed steaks (along with printed transplant organs) to replace herds of beeves.Our technology is on the cusp of delivering relief to Nature or on the brink of delivering a struggle that will lead to strife and a different form of relief to Nature.

    I wonder which way we’ll go.

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  3. Must be a slow news day: who exactly is saying books are dead?

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