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Amazon: E-book sales now outpace those of dead tree books

Amazon e-books are more popular than print books, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said today.

By Matthew Shaer / May 20, 2011

Amazon Kindle e-books are now more popular on the Amazon store than regular old dead tree books. Here, a user reads a book on an Amazon Kindle.

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Kindle e-book sales now outpace sales of traditional print books, Amazon announced today.

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"We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly – we've been selling print books for 15 years and Kindle books for less than four years," Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a press statement. Bezos added that the "Kindle with Special Offers" – a cheaper Kindle edition that displays advertisements – has become Amazon's most popular e-reader.

The sales figures break down like this, according to Amazon: since April 1, Amazon sold 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books. Meanwhile, Amazon sold more than 3 times as many e-books thus far in 2011 as it did during the same period last year. Over in the UK, customers are purchasing Kindle books over hardcover books at a rate of more than 2 to 1.

True to company form, Amazon did not provide any concrete numbers on sales – just ratios and abstractions. Bloomberg News, citing a report from investment firm Benchmark Company, puts the estimated number of Kindle sales at 8 million last year alone, some 5 percent of total Amazon sales. No word on the e-books themselves.

As we reported back in the winter of 2009, when the e-reading boom was really lurching into high gear, no one ever expected the transition from traditional books to e-readers to be painless, or especially fast. Books occupy a different place in American culture from TV or movies. They are sacrosanct objects symbols of universal knowledge. Still, over the past two years, e-reading – and the e-reader market – have expanded at an incredible pace.

Earlier this month, Amazon introduced a new e-book format called Kindle Singles, which the company describes as "compelling ideas expressed at their natural length." The idea behind Singles is a pretty simple one: For five bucks or less, users can download a 5,000 to 30,000-word piece of fiction or non-fiction. Among the first Kindle Singles releases are works by Rich Cohen,Jodi Picoult, Pete Hamill, and Darin Strauss.

Thoughts on the future of e-reading? Drop us a line in the comments section. And hey, if you haven't done so already, sign up for the Innovation newsletter, which is emailed out every Wednesday.

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