Friday, January 16, 2015

UK bookstore chain claims Kindle "dying"

"Paper books are fighting back against e-books — at least according to the UK's biggest book retailer, Waterstones, which claims that sales of Amazon's Kindle have all but "disappeared," while print sales are climbing."

Read between the lines, and you'll find more than a little bit of wishful thinking in the above article. A brick-and-mortar bookstore chain would naturally like to see the demise of the Kindle and ebooks, for the same reason that real estate agents would like to see the demise of FSBO (for sale by owner) websites.

The truth is a little more complex, though. A few years ago, digital enthusiasts were hastening to declare the "death of paper". That prediction was wrongheaded then, just as predictions of the "death of Kindle" are wrongheaded now.

First of all, it is important to remember that many Kindle readers now read the ebooks on iPads and other tablet devices. iPads have not only become more widespread, but they are now available in a variety of sizes. The Kindle reading application (free from Amazon) can run on practically any tablet device.

If you have a tablet with a Kindle reading app installed, then you probably don't need an Amazon Kindle too. That would involve a level of redundancy. (And the iPad minis are about the same size as a Kindle, anyway.) 

So the drop in sales of dedicated Kindle devices can be attributed to the proliferation of tablets in recent years. 

But this number is separate and distinct from sales figures for Kindle ebooks--which can also be read on tablets.

This isn't a binary choice for most people. Very few readers, say, "I'm only going to read in x format." I'm an avid reader, and I read ebooks, paperbacks, and hardcover books. I also listen to audio books. I buy some books new, I buy others from secondhand bookstores like Half Price books, and borrow others from the library.

Underlying the hyperlinked article is, in fact, a very real war for marketshare. Amazon has severely disrupted the business model of the traditional chains: first with its Internet ordering system in the late 1990s, and then with the Kindle in 2007. Meanwhile, Amazon has invested heavily in Kindle technology, and Jeff Bezos would no doubt like to see one in every backpack and on every nightstand.

But actual consumer behavior is more complex. The "war" between print and ebooks isn't going to end in the death of one and the universal triumph of the other. Most avid readers will continue to use both formats, as is already the case.

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