At Amazon, E-Book Sales Outpace Hardbacks This past spring and early summer, Amazon sold 143 e-books for every 100 hardcover books, a gap that is widening quickly. Amazon says consumers love the convenience of e-books; they probably like the price, too.

At Amazon, E-Book Sales Outpace Hardbacks

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Now, from digital movies and TV to electronic books. Online retailer Amazon says it is now selling more electronic books than hardcovers. Even Amazon says it's surprised by how fast things have changed.

NPR's Wendy Kaufman has more.

WENDY KAUFMAN: Amazon has been selling hardback books for 15 years. It began selling its Kindle book reader and the e-books to go with it less than three years ago. And yet this past spring and early summer, Amazon sold 143 e-books for every 100 hardcovers, and the gap favoring the electronic versions is widening quickly.

Professor JOSEPH JANES (Information School, University of Washington): I think the thing that's compelling to most people is it sounds like the beginning of the end.

KAUFMAN: Joseph Janes, who teaches at the Information School at the University of Washington, calls the shift toward e-books inevitable as we move from an analog to a digital world.

Prof. JANES: It's going to be a halting, but probably steady, forward path towards digital versions of what we used to think of as a book. And I think for a lot of people, especially if you can bump up the font size and adjust the lighting, for people who have reading impairments or just old eyes, like some of us do, some of these digital readers are a godsend.

KAUFMAN: Amazon says consumers love the convenience of electronic books. They probably like the price, too. The vast majority of Amazon's e-books cost less than $10. Hardcover books average about $25. What's more, Amazon recently slashed the price of its book reader.

Steve Kessel is Amazon's senior executive overseeing the Kindle.

Mr. STEVE KESSEL (Senior Vice president, Amazon Kindle): In the last 30 or so days since we've reduced the price, what we've seen is a tripling in the growth of that business, meaning that we've reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle.

KAUFMAN: Last month, in response to competitive pressures from Barnes & Noble, and more notably, from Apple's iPad, Amazon dropped the price of its Kindle from $259 to $189.

Analyst Aaron Kessler of a firm called ThinkEquity says some people initially thought the iPad - which can be used as a book reader, but does lots of other things, too - would hurt Amazon dearly. But he doesn't see it turning out that way.

Mr. AARON KESSLER (Analyst, ThinkEquity): To a certain degree, it probably has cannibalized the Kindle device, although we think it's probably accelerated the sale of the digital books, which ultimately is where I think Amazon should be making more of the money is on the book side, versus the hardware sales.

KAUFMAN: The total number of books sold by Amazon is rising, and paperbacks remain the most popular. But the online retailing won't say how many books of any type it sells. It won't even say how many Kindle devices have been bought.

But based on survey data, analyst James McQuivey of Forrester Research thinks the number of e-book readers is now well into the millions.

Mr. JAMES MCQUIVEY (Analyst, Forrester Research): There are probably about six million of these in the market right now, most of which are Amazon Kindles. Sony and Barnes & Noble make up the biggest portion of the rest of them. By the end of this year, though, we'll be close to 11 million.

KAUFMAN: And with 11 million e-book readers, a lot more electronic books are likely to be sold.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

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