In a twist that will likely have paper-loving bibliophiles screaming in agony, Amazon.com's Kindle ebooks have apparently started outselling paperbacks, having already surpassed hardcovers.
Amazon sold 115 Kindle books for every 100 paperbacks moved through its online storefront, the company reported Jan. 27. That apparently includes sales of books without an equivalent electronic edition, and excludes free Kindle ebooks.
"Last July we announced that Kindle books had passed hardcovers and predicted that Kindle would surpass paperbacks in the second quarter of this year," Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a Jan. 27 statement, "so this milestone has come even sooner than we expected-and it's on top of continued growth in paperback sales."
However, Amazon remains reluctant to share any hard numbers related to the sales of Kindle e-readers, aside from the totally unsurprising note that "millions" of third-generation Kindle devices sold in the fourth quarter.
Research firm Gartner estimates that e-reader sales will increase 68.3 percent in 2011, to more than 11 million units.
"The connected e-reader market has grown dramatically during the past two years, driven by sales of Amazon's e-readers, primarily in North America," Hugues De La Vergne, principal research analyst at Gartner, wrote in a Dec. 8 statement posted on Gartner's corporate Website. However, "growth in North American and other markets will remain constrained by the success of media tablets, such as the Apple iPad."
That Gartner note saw full-color tablets such as the iPad as the greatest threat to the e-reader market, one that some e-reader manufacturers are trying to blunt with the introduction of color screens. Barnes & Noble's Nook Color, as the most prominent example, includes a full-color 7-inch display, WiFi capability, Web surfing and the ability to share selected passages from ebooks via Facebook and Twitter.
Amazon has defiantly kept the Kindle grayscale, betting that most customers will want a device exclusively for reading in addition to their other gizmos. However, it faces yet another competitor in Google, which in December launched its own eBooks storefront with some 3 million titles. Google's eBooks software allows users to read titles on a variety of devices, including the Sony Reader, Apple iPad and even-at least for those ebooks without digital rights management-the Kindle.
Amazon's own developing Kindle for Web app will allow users to purchase ebooks via a Website and read them within the browser. That would complement existing Kindle software for iPhone, Windows PC, Mac, BlackBerry, iPad, Android and Windows Phone 7 devices.