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The rise of the e-book has always been synonymous with the decline of the paperback. It’s the storied zero-sum conundrum for booksellers.
But during yesterday’s Kindle press event, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos presented an alternate scenario. As he did last year, Bezos flashed a slide that showed not a decline in physical book sales — but a steady increase.
“I see this, and I say ‘wow,’” Bezos said, referring not to the physical book sales but to the other, hockey stick-shaped line.
That line, of course, represented sales of Kindle books, which just last year surpassed those of physical books on Amazon. This year, the story is largely the same, but this time it comes with a shift: Kindle books are undoubtedly leaving physical books in their dust. (We’ll forgive Amazon’s failure to provide a y-axis once again.)
Maybe none of this is surprising, but it is worth noting that the chart above is proof that Amazon is bolstering, not killing, sales of physical books. At least for now.
That Amazon has managed to prevent this sales cannibalization may seem unlikely, but the feat is actually a result of one of its core strategies: Remove the barrier to entry, either via price or sheer convenience, and consumers will pay attention. How the strategy applies to books is perhaps too obvious: Amazon, by making the process of buying and reading books far easier, has simply gotten more people reading — both on Kindle and on paper.
So what does all of this mean? The most obvious conclusion is probably the most simple: The book isn’t dead, not in substance and certainly not in structure. In fact, outside of the traditional e-book model, Amazon is also experimenting with projects like Direct Publishing and Kindle Serials, both of which show that the company is interested in shaking up how the book publishing business is run.
The same convenience-equals-sales strategy, by the way, applies to movies and television shows, segments that Amazon is also heavily targeting with its latest tablets. That, along with the company’s tablet-as-service strategy, is helping Amazon make its strongest attempt yet to topple Apple’s ecosystem dominance. It’s going to be an interesting competition to watch.