2:1 Sales? Holy Ebook, Amazon!
Fun fact: Amazon is now selling two ebooks for every print book it sells. This is a major shift in how readers are choosing to consume literature and one with long-term consequences for the publishing industry, as the world's largest bookseller is now pushing digital product far more effectively than physical (and that's what its users want).
A number of factors can account for this, and the first is the Kindle. Amazon's ebook reader has become a wildly popular device and a touchstone for the concept of ebook readers, much as the iPod completely changed how people thought of MP3 players. The convenience of the Kindle has done away with the stigmas of inconvenience and tedium (and unreadable screens) attached to ebook readers of old, and Amazon selling both a reader and material for that reader, much like Apple's iPod and iTunes Music Store tie-ins, have proven hugely effective in pushing the product.
Another potential explanation is simple: instant gratification. As opposed to paying for shipping and handling waiting for a product to arrive, or risking losing it in the mail, purchasing an ebook means that the book arrives within a few seconds (or perhaps a few minutes, depending on the quality of your internet connection) and can be read as soon as it's downloaded. Actual books have a waiting period, and our culture does not like waiting for things.
Furthermore, ebooks are considerably less wasteful than printed pages. While there's much to be said about the printed page - it's more likely to be preserved, you can show people what you're reading when you're in public and maybe impress someone in the process, it doesn't suffer from glare - the ebook doesn't require trees to be chopped down or inks to be used, and it can be distributed immediately, rather than in several weeks after the book is printed and bound. Given that many users are conscious about their carbon footprints, an ebook reader seems like an easy solution to the problems of producing paper books, which require machinery and sophisticated manufacturing processes. While the Kindle also requires manufacturing, it only needs to be made once, not every time someone wants to purchase a book, perhaps making it appear to be a more environmentally friendly way to get reading material.
Within the next few years, Amazon's print to digital sales ratio is only going to slide more and more in favor of digital, much like CDs were phased out in favor of downloads. This is definitely indicative of a larger trend.
Andrew Hall is a guest blogger and a writer.