Is the Amazon Kindle Murdering or Rescuing the Publishing Industry?

I’ll be upfront in admitting that I don’t read much. I always intend to, but never actually seem to get around to it. Still, I enjoy keeping a small collection of books on the back burner. In a way, not reading them gives me something to look forward to. “I’ll get to ‘em eventually,” I sometimes remind myself, but to no avail. I’ve accepted at this point that they’ll likely reside in my second dresser drawer for years to come. That is, until I can muster the initiative to open one again.

Why the sudden introspection concerning literature, you ask? Well, during one of my recent perusals for updates on the latest trends in technology (a subject that I’m admittedly much more interested in), I came across a curious statistic. Internet retailer Amazon has reportedly hit another milestone with their champion product, the Kindle. The announcement came in conjunction with the release of their fourth quarter report for 2010.

Apparently, downloadable books for the device are now outselling paperback books on the site—not by a significant margin, but a margin nonetheless. By the end of 2010, the ratio of Kindle book downloads to paperback sales on the website was roughly 115 to 100. So, for every 100 people who purchased a traditional paperback on the site, 115 downloaded a book on their portable reader. Now, that’s interesting!

Kindle downloads were already outselling hardcovers by last summer, but now they’ve taken a bite out of softcover sales as well? Sounds to me like the publishing world is undergoing a significant change. Could this be the beginning of a new era in print? Can we even continue to call it “print”?

Will e-books eventually stamp out traditional books altogether?

Will e-books eventually stamp out traditional books altogether?

Well, one thing is certain: the winds of change are coming. My interest is always piqued when markets undergo serious shifts in operation, and although I’m not the bookish type, I’m curious as hell to find out whether the conventional tomes of yesteryear will be outmatched and outclassed by their newfangled, digital counterparts in the years to come.

These are only personal musings, of course, as I obviously have no idea what will happen as physical book sales continue on their steady decline. Maybe substantial price cuts (at least on hardcovers) are the solution, and maybe said cuts will boost sales figures. It would make sense, as pricing issues are an obvious determining factor when it comes to the success or failure of any product, no matter how traditional.

Of course, the book business isn’t the only one having to deal with instability these days. For example, one of the long-standing gripes that consumers have had with the modern recording industry is the extremely high cost of both physical music CDs and downloadable albums. A revamp of the music industry’s entire business model has been a topic of much debate in recent years, and it looks as though the literary world is about to experience a similar culture shock.

Not being a much of a reader, I’m trying to look at Amazon’s statistics objectively. They’re impressive as far as what they mean for the Kindle, and staggering in terms of what they could mean for the future of reading. Sure, I’m sort of a tech-buff, but I’m also a little old-fashioned at the same time, which makes it hard for me to imagine anyone not preferring the antiquated pleasures of physical books (i.e. the feel of the pages between your fingers, the duration of each novel represented in its weight, the smell of freshly pressed papyrus wafting through the air as you enjoy a riveting narrative by the lamplight, etc.). I can certainly understand why folks might opt for the streamlined, digital interface of the Kindle (or any “eBook,” for that matter)—it saves space, it’s eco-friendly, and it’s got the whole “latest and greatest” vibe going for it, but it’s a rather impersonal way to experience the written word. Ultimately, I’m just taken aback by it all. I guess part of me is hoping that conventional books will hang in there a while longer.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the consumers—as is usually the case. They’ll weigh the pros and cons and form their own collective decision. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see which direction literature ultimately takes.

What are your thoughts? Amazon has obviously done their job in bringing a viable alternative to the market, but at what cost?

Heading image from the Adman Ramblings blog at Blogspot.

Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.


  1. Jill Tooley

    I’ve contemplated this burning question for years! When I first heard about the Kindle, I was pissed because I had a sneaking suspicion it would eventually take sales away from print books and make them obsolete collector’s items. Being a book collector and word junkie, it’s taking a lot longer for me to warm up to the Kindle. I love the non-backlit screen and the cheaper book prices, and the convenience of carrying hundreds of books with me at once is tempting, but I’m not fully convinced of e-books just yet.

    You summed it up best when you said: “the feel of the pages between your fingers, the duration of each novel represented in its weight, the smell of freshly pressed papyrus wafting through the air as you enjoy a riveting narrative by the lamplight…” That may sound dorky to some people, but that’s exactly how I feel! I collect books because each one is different: the size and texture of the covers/pages, the smell of the paper, the quality of the binding, the cover art, etc. With e-books, I couldn’t display my reading collection or thoughtfully select a book from a shelf when I ache for new adventures. Scrolling though an electronic list of reading material just doesn’t hold the same excitement for me…

    At the same time, though, the Kindle could save the publishing industry by once again catching people’s interest in books. Technology is all the rage these days, and the public’s desire to own the latest and greatest e-reader could spur some much-needed book sales. Plus, these changes mean that authors can publish e-books and earn royalties without jumping through the notoriously-difficult hoops of traditional print publishers. I see a lot of benefits, but none of them will ease my pain of seeing print books wall to the wayside… 🙁

    Did I mention that it really freaks me out that upcoming generations will have no idea what it’s like to handle and use physical copies of books? Scary!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I know what you mean. You can’t really call it a “collection” if the collection itself is digitized. In a similar way, I don’t really count my digitally stored movies as part of my overall “movie collection.”

      And I agree: it’s sad indeed to think that future readers—way down the line, I mean—might only be able to see a traditional book in a museum. Seems downright dystopian, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. After all, we’ll run out of trees eventually.

  2. JPorretto

    I had no idea you were so sentimental Joe! To be fully invested in new technologies, you almost have to be completely the opposite to fully invest yourself in the “latest and greatest.” The antiquated usually just gets left in the dust.

    I actually feel like in the future I’d be MORE likely to buy books because of E-Readers, mostly because I can just get them from the comfort of my home. I hate going to a book store to try to find a specific book. If you don’t remember the title/ author/ AND section completely verbatim, it can make you life pretty difficult.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Yeah, my sentimentality sometimes gets in the way of my seeing the bigger picture, but at the end of the day I’m just an ol’ fashioned kind of guy. I too would probably purchase more books if I had a newfangled device like the Kindle, but I’d probably still have tendency to NOT read them. That being the case, I’d rather just continue to NOT read my regular books. 😀

      But you and Jill are right—as far as publishing a wider array of books and making them more accessible to the masses, e-readers are potentially a godsend for the publishing industry.

  3. LK

    I agree with Jill, I love having a collection of physical books to read. Plus, the season I read the most is in the summer, laying by or in the pool- so unless the make the Kindle or any other e-book waterproof I’m going to have to stick to physical books that are fine to read poolside.
    Another reason I’m not ready to jump out and get a Kindle is because everything we look at nowadays is via a screen, your cellphone, computers at work, laptops, I like that reading a physical book doesn’t mean I have to look at a screen.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Yeah, it’s nice to get away from screens whenever possible. Between staring at a computer monitor for eight or nine hours at work and then going home to stare at my TV for a few more, my eyes certainly get more than their fair share of damaging rays—as I’m sure is the case for many an office worker.

  4. Cybernetic SAM

    NO NO NO My Kindy can do no wrong! 🙂 It’s a love hate thing. I love having physical copies of books. Saving trees and money is kind of cool. It also helps cut down on “stuff” after moving for the 5th time (I love my books but I am tired of MOVING them). Less is more in this case. I do miss having a copy of the book, but the advantages are so many. If you are anything like me, reading is a chore in itself – I have my book, my dictionary, pen, highlighter (which requires a purse size that I could in fact haul you your family and all of Texas). NOW I have all of it in one place with the Kindle! Plus, in the off chance I end up not liking my read, at least I most likely got it for a great Kindle price. So, I am not left w/ a bitter taste of buyer’s remorse and disappointment b/c I can just log in to the Kindle book store and click NEW BOOK BAM! AWESOME! Ok I am done…I am starting to sound like a Kindle salesman!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      The benefits you listed are definitely some of the main reasons for its popularity. And it seems like more and more people are becoming aware of the same benefits. Regardless, I’ll likely remain on the fence about it for a little while longer.

      It’s admittedly a cool device though. You’re very, very lucky to have one. 😉

  5. Michelle

    I could never own a Kindle. My sister and I could spend hours in a bookstore, and do so quite often. I love books for every reason you listed, Joe! Especially because the smell of a bookstore is so refreshing! And then when you bring the book home and it still smells like that…it just makes my day!

    • LK


    • Joseph Giorgi

      Exactly! Things like that just can’t be replaced with newer technology.

      • JPorretto

        So get a “New Book” air freshener and get with the future! And if they don’t make that already, I’m patenting the idea after reading these posts =)

  6. Kyle

    Hmmm interesting post. I totally understand the arguments for both sides of the issue, but I have to side with digital copies. The convenience factor when compared to physical copies is through the roof and being able to carry thousands of books in the palm of your hand is simply amazing. There will undoubtebly always be the enthusiasts and collectors who demand to own an actual physical copy, but for me personally I’m not passionate about reading enough to feel that need. I’m sure there will be many that will disagree with my opinion, but the practicality of digital copies wins me over. That’s just my two cents. 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi

      There can’t necessarily be too many who disagree with you. Convenience is obviously a big draw. I’m sure that more and more people are coming around to that way of thinking when it comes to the printed word nowadays, as Amazon’s announcement proves.

  7. Bret Bonnet

    I think I fall into the “pro” Kindle camp even though I’ve never used or seen one (in real life) before. Sure, the cost of printing a book plays a factor when/if setting the price for an item… Hard copy or not though, just like it is with the music industry, it’s not the traditional COGS (cost of goods sold) model that determines the price of these digital equivalents; no – instead the publishers set a fixed price. The power to publish rests in the hands of a very few select publishers – that of whom all get together and conspire to set pricing in attempt to make eBooks exciting but not at the cost of cannibalizing their current print business (their bread and butter).

    Long story short, if TRUE market conditions were allowed to prevail and if more and more companies would stop practicing defensism and instead focus on innovation – printed music and physical CDs would have been gone years ago.

    In my opinion, if you’re a stock holder of FYE (For Your Entertainment), any major theatre chain NOT already owned by a major movie studio, or Borders (they just filed for bankruptcy); you’re out of your mind. Why? The distribution model for selling CD’s, movies, and books has changed forever and you’re just prolonging your long and slow death by refusing to change how you do business…

    I recall a college professor telling me that the reason the $225.00 economics text book that was required for our class was so expensive was because the field changes so quickly; reducing the shelf life of each edition, and because of this short life span, the “runs” for each book were so small that the economies of scale which would normally drive down the price per book were not achievable. To add insult to injury – we only used the textbook twice the entire term. Here is the TRUTH – they charge as much money as they do because they fix the price. We were required to buy the text book we never used in class because the university requires that professors force their students to purchase a text book (though as I pointed out earlier – use of said text book is apparently optional). Why? Because the schools get a piece of the text book action/pie.

    I want to be able to read a book, any book, when and where I want to. I want to read about the latest and most current information, not pay for something that is obsolete by the time the ink hits the page. I want to be able to watch my favorite movies the day they come out in the convenience of my own home instead of arriving at the movie theatre only to learn that the showing I was interested in purchasing tickets for sold out two people in line in front of me earlier. I want to be able to read or watch a movie when there is a 30″ snow drift outside my house preventing me from backing my car out of the drive way.

    I say we forget ALL CDs, books, and movie theatres and let the market dictate the distribution model that is always on, always available, and arguably significantly more dynamic (aka. the internet).

    Sorry to all you pop-corn boys out there – your days are numbered!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I’m all for the kind of convenience that comes with digital distribution. I’ve always got Netflix running on my TV these days, and my music is now obtained entirely online. It’s just sort of astounding to see a pastime like reading undergo such a dramatic shift in the way that it’s approached.

      Conventional books (as well as physical newspapers, journals, magazines, periodicals, etc.) were our only means of obtaining written information for a very long time. That’s all changed rapidly over the past couple of decades. Now it’s almost as if we’re seeing the final nails driven into the coffin of the traditional written word. Of course, it’ll most likely be for the best.

      In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what the publishing world looks like once it’s through with its facelift.

  8. PublishingSpy

    NEW BLOG POST: Is the Amazon Kindle Murdering or Rescuing the Publishing Industry?

  9. Yowhatup!

    All I have to say is I LOVE my kindle!!!!!

    Great post though!

  10. Faraz

    It is rather impersonal. I prefer to have a book I can dog ear the pages of, annotate if necessary and literally get to grips with. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate the benefits of e-books though. I know of a couple who are cycling from Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America with their two young children. They read all the time, which wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for e-books; they need to keep the weight they carry to a minimum and I imagine that acquiring books in the middle of, say, the Atacama Desert would be pretty tough! In short: e-books are fantastic in certain situations but it’d be sad to see the back of their paper predecessors.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Agreed. I’ve got a love-hate relationship with e-books, and I wish that I could come down on one side of the argument or another, but I just can’t yet. So, I’m sticking with paperbacks for the time being.

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