July 20, 2010 1:21 am

E-books overtake hardcover sales at Amazon

Amazon is now selling more e-books than hardcover books. The shift represents a milestone in the emergence of digital reading and signals Amazon’s continued dominance of the e-book market with its Kindle e-reader.

E-book sales overtook sales of hardbacks – as distinct from soft or paperback books – during the past three months, when Amazon sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books. That accelerated in the past month, when the ratio jumped to 180 e-books for every 100 hardcovers.

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Amazon also said that the growth rate for the Kindle had tripled since it lowered the price from $259 to $189 this month in response to the success of Apple’s iPad. Jeff Bezos, chief executive, said: “We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle.”

Amazon does not release unit sales figures for Kindles or e-books. But it did say that five authors, including Stieg Larsson and Nora Roberts, had each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books.

“Amazon is trying to make the point that they dominate this business the way Apple dominates music sales,” said James McQuivey, a media analyst with Forrester Research. “This is also a way to say that they are not afraid of Apple when it comes to book sales.”

Amazon began selling the Kindle and e-books less than three years ago and took an early lead in sales of both e-readers and e-books. In recent months Barnes & Noble, Borders, Sony and a bevy of companies have introduced new e-readers and e-book stores. Forrester estimates e-reader sales in the US of 6.6m this year and 8.7m in 2015.

“Amazon has the clear lead,” said Mr McQuivey. “Right now everyone is now fighting over who is number two and number three. There probably won’t be a number four.”

Apple’s iPad can serve as an e-reader as well. Its early success led to a round of price cuts this month. But Mr McQuivey called into question Apple’s position in the e-books market and said that because Amazon had Kindle applications for the iPad and iPhone, it could retain its dominance in digital reading.

“Amazon wants you to be a Kindle customer regardless of what device you use,” he said. “There’s no reason to expect that Apple will ever be a big bookseller themselves, even though the iPad is a very powerful device.”

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