Monday, February 16, 2009

Will Kindle users buy fewer books?

That's what Peter Smith at IT World thinks.

In his article "Amazon Kindle's impact on book sales?", Smith suggests that Kindles may have a negative impact on book sales. Why?

Smith offers two reasons:

1) The easy availability of free public domain books at places such as

2) A change in browsing/shopping habits. Smith claims that having instant access to almost any book you want makes stocking up on books to read in the future unnecessary.

"So it seems to me that owning a Kindle would cut down on the number of books I purchased (but not the number of books I actually read)," Smith says.

My first reaction to Smith's assertion was "Rubbish," but looking at my Kindle reading history I saw that most of my books have in fact come from Feedbooks.

Still, I've bought several books from Amazon too -- definitely more than I would have purchased otherwise. It's tough not to buy books from Amazon via the Kindle given how easy it is. And odds are most of those public domain books I've downloaded for free are books I probably would have checked out from my local library rather than pay for anyway, so I don't think Amazon lost any of my money there.

I've heard a lot of Kindle owners say they read more than ever since getting their Kindle, but I've never asked precisely what they are reading.

What say ye, Kindle owners? Are you buying more or fewer books? Does Smith's argument hold water?


Bryce Leo Photography said...

I have to say that I buy significantly more books than I used to. I just don't buy any of them new.

I love to "have" books. Sometimes I don't want to read from my kindle, I want the feel of real paper pages and curl up in bed with a real book. I've been able to save hundreds by buying kindle editions and then used editions.

Also the ability to take books from Ibibilo, or just other books authors make available in plain text and convert them for the kindle is priceless.

I just recently did this with "Underground" by Suelette Dreyfus.

Anonymous said...

I don't wholly agree. While I have many public domain books, I also have many purchased through Amazon. And I would have even more if all of the books I wanted were available for the Kindle.

Honestly, the Kindle has increased my volume of reading because it has made it so convenient and easy to carry a large library along with me at all times.

Anonymous said...

Since I received my Kindle in April of 2008, I have paid for 36 Kindle editions. The year before that, I bought 2 books.

Sharyn said...

I'm buying *way* more books now! I used to buy a lot of print books, but it had to wait until I had a list to get free shipping or went to the book store. Now I can buy a book in an instant. And I do -- often!

Kelly Bailey said...

I used to buy 20-30 books every year via Amazon. Now that I have my Kindle, I've purchased over 40 books so far(since Dec 2008)and read about half of them. I can easily see myself buying another 40+ this year alone.

Tomlin said...

I was ready for a transition
when Kindle came along
I wanted to stop traveling
and start reading
the stuff I had missed out on
To that end
I buy a lot more books
and recently
found myself back in B&N
buying for other folks
The ones who tell me
they don't want a Kindle

Shelley said...

I've bought significantly more books. And what I'm reading has changed, thanks to the instant sample capability. I'm more willing to try books on different topics, or by new authors.

Roland Dobbins said...

Since purchasing my Kindle in November of 2007, I've purchased >200 Kindle books, and read >150 of them. That's at least double the number of physical books I would've purchased due to storage space limitations alone during the same period without the Kindle.

After decades of just buying books (partially because I was so bad about returning them on time that I was afraid the Library Police would send the SWATs after me, heh), I'd finally started heavily using the public library again, due to the logistical and storage space requirements. The Kindle has freed me from those limitations, and I now purchase more books than ever.

sdt33 said...

Well, I don't think it holds much water.

Of the 65 books on my Kindle, I have yet to read 34 of them. So, I'm an example of someone who isn't waiting waiting waiting until the last second before I start reading to actually purchase a Kindle edition. People enjoy ringing up purchases. It makes them feel good. It literally triggers the release of chemicals that make us feel good, as I'm sure most people have read in one weekly newsmagazine article or another. ;-) Also, many of the books I purchased but have yet to read now cost more than they did when I purchased them. Just because you don't have to make the purchase until the last second doesn't mean that people will all of a sudden stop responding to SALE pricing! C'mon now, this is the American buying public we're talking about here! ;-)

There are many books I've bought for the Kindle that I would never have bought in a hardcopy edition. For example, one weekend I felt like reading Freakonomics. This is a book I just want to read once. I have no desire to possess a physical copy of it. I didn't want to A) get on a waiting list for it at the library, or B) schlep to the bookstore, buy a new copy for full price, and turn around and donate it or sell it on for $1.50, or C) buy it on for $1.50, and turn around and sell it on for $1.50.

A) too long of a wait, and if I do opt for the wait anyway, no sale for Amazon.
B) way too much of a hassle involving multiple trips, but if I do go to the hassle anyway, no sale for Amazon.
C) long wait and and plenty of hassle involving trips and packaging and the post office, and no sale for Amazon. That brings us to the option I chose instead:

D) buy Kindle edition. start reading right away. don't move from bed. Sale for Amazon.

People pay for convenience! This can not be overstated. There are THREE different 7-11s within an 8-minute walk of my apartment. That is further proof. ;-)

There are many other reasons people may prefer owning a book that isn't a physical copy. Stuff they don't want to have seen lying around their home or on their shelves: embarrassing self-help books for example, or books that maybe deal with an embarrassing medical condition or private life situation. Or books that are titillating, erotic, or trashy. For example, maybe George Clooney wants to read "Shopaholic Ties The Knot", but doesn't want Brad Pitt seeing it lying on the coffee table when he comes over, because he knows Brad will make fun of him. ;-)

Then, of course, Amazon is going to get sales of books that will only be available on the Kindle. I wouldn't have bought UR by Stephen King in hardcopy, but I bought the Kindle edition. Amazon got 3 bucks from me that they wouldn't have otherwise.

I've been exposed to authors I wouldn't have bothered to look at if I had to obtain a hardcopy of one of their books, due to the free copies made available by Amazon recently. Charlie Huston, David Liss, Laurie Notaro, etc. -- now I might buy copies of their other books in the future. More sales for Amazon that they wouldn't have made otherwise.

Like many other Kindlers, I've been reading more books in the last year than in a very very long time. And that includes more physical books from the library, in addition to Kindle books. Sometimes I don't want to pull the trigger on paying for a Kindle edition, I hop on the library web page, see that a book is available now, and I borrow it instead (my library is a 5 min walk from me, by the way). But I'm also spending more on books too. I'm getting exposed to more books and authors, and I've browsed and shopped and looked more, prodded along by the Kindle and by how easy it is to click over to Amazon and add something to my wish list if I see mention of a particular book somewhere else online, or on TV or from a friend. A computer is always nearby, and once again I have a backlog of things to read, and I find myself turning less to other forms of entertainment like TV and movies and games, and even music.

Diane Muir said...

Books in my home were out of control. In fact, I joked that I could feel the foundation sinking into the dirt because of the incredible weight of my books. I couldn't buy enough bookshelves to manage what was happening. That didn't even account for the boxes of book that had been packed in storage.

This was no way for me to live. I was no longer able to read the books that I loved and treasured. Heck, I couldn't find most of them and had forgotten about the rest of them.

Due to my busy lifestyle, I actually quit reading fiction for quite a few years. I was studying for one thing or the other and honestly, the idea of filling my floor with stacks of more books was frightening to me. At some point my family is going to have to deal with what I have left and this was out of control.

I stopped buying books unless they were necessary for what I was writing and studying.

Then, the Kindle came into my life. I could carry hundreds of books with me wherever I went. I didn't need bookshelves or organizational schemes. I wasn't peering behind massive stacks of books to find a treasure. All I needed was an SD card and I could manage my life again.

I bought a novel on Amazon and another and another and oh my goodness, my furious desire for reading was out of control again!

Yes, I found the free book sites and began consuming the classics once again, but I also found myself drawn back to Amazon, tempted by authors I had loved years ago and who had continued to write even though I had stopped reading. I couldn't just buy their new books, I had to start over. So I purchased every single book these authors wrote for my Kindle. And with Amazon's recommendations before me, I began exploring new authors, purchasing their books one by one. I loved being able to continue reading a series in the middle of the night simply by pressing a few buttons!

The best part of it was that I discovered series for my friends and this last Christmas I gave more paper books as gifts than I have in years!

Buying fewer books? That just made me laugh. The only thing that has been reduced in my life is the amount of real estate my books are taking up in my house now. The last time I looked at my Kindle list on Amazon's site, I was a little overwhelmed at the amount of money I've spent. But, every bit of it has been worth it!

Diane said...

I think I'm reading the same amount. I still buy most of my books because the books I like aren't out of copyright yet.

Because of samples, I have tried and purchased books I wouldn't have before. For example, I never bought non-fiction before the Kindle. And because of the freebies--especially the ones that are the first of a series, I have purchased all the rest of the books in the series.

I haven't purchased any non-Kindle books since I got it. I would say I'm buying a few books less than I did before. As someone else posted, there's no longer any need to stockpile. And when I was doing that, inevitably there would be books that I never actually read. Now I mostly stockpile free samples and use the "buy now" button if I want to keep reading when I get to the end of the sample.

Glitch said...

Sure, I have downloaded TONS of free content onto my Kindle. But I absolutely have purchased MORE books from for my Kindle that I ever would have bought in print.

Alan Swartz said...

The think the bottom line is that the Kindle makes it incredibly easy to make impulse purchases.

Stormy said...

I buy a lot more books. I used to read only library books or used books and now I buy books for my Kindle. So Amazon definitely makes more money off me!

Jo said...

The number of real books sold by bookstores may be going down anyway, and may have little or nothing to do with Kindle if what I've been observing in Borders is any indication.

Last time I was in there, the place was packed, and there was a line to pay for books almost as long as the one they had in the same store on the first day of the release of the last Harry Potter book. They didn't have any of the books I came to get, and there was nobody to help find or order books.

There seemed to be a grand total of three employees in the whole store (plus 2 people serving the cafe), and they were overworked and harried.

In the space of a half hour, I witnessed at least a dozen people trying to get help from the unmanned help desk.

Probably a quarter of the people who came in with intention of buying books left without buying anything, frustrated and annoyed. These were people who wanted to pick up a book (or three), plunk down their money and walk out with books, and they walked out with nothing.

I was one of them. I had every intention of buying about $30 worth of books, but walked out with nothing.

And the worst part of it (for Borders) was wondering why I bothered to take the bus to Borders, when I could have ordered the books from Amazon and had somebody come to my door and hand them to me.

So, don't let anybody tell you that the problems of the bookstores are the fault of the Kindle. The bookstores are busy digging their own grave.