Amazon sells more ebooks than paperback and hardcover books. How come?

Amazon is already selling more ebooks then we might expect. For every 100 paperback and hardcover books, Amazon delivers 114 ebooks to its readers in UK. The fact is astonishing as this is sure to trigger the same long-term effect as iTunes had: it will change the publishing industry just like iTunes changed the music industry.

kindle dx
The Kindle DX

Change happened gradually. Legend has it Jeff Bezos saw the eInk readers and understood that such a device might be, in the wrong hands, Amazon’s arch-nemesis. In 2004 he order 30 eInk readers and asked Steve Kessel to setup a research facility for a future switch to ebook publishing.

In 2007 the team at Lab 126, Amazon’s subsidiary in charge of Kindle’s R&D, launched the first product. It was a big hit. Users could choose from 88 000 books, which was way above any other competitor in the ebook reader market.

The elements involved in Kindle’s success are invisible when we look at the product. The sleek design, the beautiful typography or the eInk technology are not enough to understand the ecosystem that lead to Amazon’s results. Let’s have a look at some key factors involved in Kindle’s adoption and evolution:

1. The existing clients: When Amazon launched the Kindle it already had more than 65 million customers. Even at a low adoption rate Amazon would have had the greatest chance to succeed selling ebooks.

2. The large selection of electronic books: The 88 000 books available at launch were more than any of the competition had to offer its readers. 5 years after the first generation Kindle Amazon has extended its ebook offering largely.

3. Impulse buying: In 1999 the US Trademark Office issued a patent to Amazon.com regarding 1 Click buying. By using previously entered credit card information the user can skip the shopping cart hassle and purchase any item with the click of a button. This patent was never awarded in Europe but Amazon created a impulse-buying consumer behavior that lead, in time, to the success Kindle is right now. By using this technology Amazon makes sure that consumers don’t think too much about purchasing. They just do it. Psychologically this resolves the so called “buyer’s remorse”.

4. Instant delivery through Wi-Fi and the Whispernet 3G network: one of the greatest things about the Kindle is the fact that you don’t have to wait until it’s shipped. The books are being delivered anywhere in the world instantly. The Whispernet network is nothing short of genius and its benefits in customer satisfaction greatly exceed the costs.

5. Syncing: the current lifestyle of many of Amazon’s customers doesn’t allow them to read to peacefully enjoy reading a book for more than an hour at a time. Our attention span has greatly decreased as modern jobs leave little time for personal development. Kindle is available as a standalone application on the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad etc. Basically we can read our book wherever we are, whenever we can. Using internet connection the books are synced cross device and readers can enjoy books whenever they can.

6. Evolution of indie publishing: The Kindle allowed many indie authors to self publish their books. As these authors entered a market they couldn’t previously tap into prices have dropped and the book selection has increased. It’s not yet clear whether buyers are reading or just collecting the books. However – they pay for them and that means a shift in spending that will lead to further changes in book publishing.

The 6 facts above are the things we don’t usually see when looking at the Kindle but they are very important. One cannot try to understand Kindle’s success without understanding the ecosystem Amazon has built to support ebook sales.

In 2011 Amazon launched its Android powered Kindle Fire. This year the company is generating 89% of iTunes App Store revenues selling Android Apps. Read more on the subject here.