Spare a thought for the humble hardback this Christmas. It seems the traditional giftwrapped tome is being trumped by downloads, after Amazon customers bought more e-books than printed books for the first time on Christmas Day.
As people rushed to fill their freshly unwrapped e-readers – one of the top-selling gadgets this festive season – the online retailer said sales at its electronic book store quickly overtook orders for physical books. Its own e-reader, the Kindle, is now the most popular gift in Amazon’s history.
Amazon’s shares rose sharply today after it updated investors on a strong Christmas performance. On its peak day, 14 December, the retailer said customers ordered more than 9.5m items worldwide, the equivalent of a record-breaking 110 items a second.
The Seattle-based company’s top sellers in its home market included Apple’s iPod touch, Scrabble Slam Cards, Nintendo’s Wii Fit Plus with balance board, the latest Harry Potter DVD, Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue and Susan Boyle’s album, I Dreamed a Dream.
Although Amazon has repeatedly trumpeted “record-breaking” Kindle sales, it has refused to say exactly how many have been sold since the 2007 launch.
Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst with Collins Stewart in New York who has tracked the Kindle’s performance, believes that across both models – the paperback-sized Kindle 2 and larger DX – Amazon may be on target to have sold a little over 500,000 units by the end of the year.
Nor does it divulge data about the Kindle-compatible books it sells from a Kindle Store that now includes more than 390,000 titles.
After first taking off in the US, e-readers are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and the Kindle went on sale in Britain in mid-October. The department store chain John Lewis highlighted the popularity of e-readers this Christmas, reporting a jump in sales of Sony’s eBook readers.
British publishers have also been exploring the market for electronic versions of books in the hope of enjoying strong sales when e-book stores and reading devices achieve critical mass in the coming years.
The Harry Potter publisher Bloomsbury made the 2009 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack available as an e-book for the first time this year, while Penguin has been selling a range of its classics in electronic form with extra features such as contemporary recipes.