Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble Nook Revitalizing Books and Reading


After years of expert prophesizing that reading and the publishing industry were "dead," affordable color tablets like the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook are hooking new readers on books and bringing older readers back. 

Publishers Weekly reported that U.S. e-book sales overtook the sales of mass market paperbacks in the first quarter of 2011. E-book sales worldwide are estimated to top $9.7 billion by 2016, more than current hardcover and mass market paperback sales combined. Rather than a dead art form of the past, books continue to be the primary conveyance for diverse, complex ideas and multilayered, longer fictional stories.

Gizmodo named Amazon’s Kindle Fire as the top technology product of 2011. Amazon has sold an estimated 2 million Kindle Fire tablets in 2011, while rough estimates of Nook tablet sales could be as high as 3 million units sold. To put these numbers in perspective, as recently as 2010, a traditionally-published mass-market paperback could get listed on the New York Times bestseller list with as few as 50,000 copies sold. How many copies have the really huge bestsellers of the past sold? The first Harry Potter book sold about 100 million paper copies worldwide. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code sold an estimated 65 million paper copies.

Six months ago, many airport lounges and flight areas were full of travelers using iPads. The iPad has always carried books, but it is not the most optimal device for book reading and it did not represent a major book sales channel. This holiday season, airport lounges are filled with people reading books or magazines on one of the smaller tablets. Six or seven years ago, Publishers Weekly reported that Amazon had about 10% of the total U.S. book market and it primarily sold hardcover books. Now, Amazon dominates the U.S. and international book markets thanks to the Kindle. The book market isn't shrinking, but rather it is growing rapidly.

Retailers and publishers continue to search for the right price point and right packaging for e-books, and in some cases, individual authors and small presses are outperforming expectations. Sixty percent of Amazon's best-selling e-books in 2011 were not on their 100 top paper book sales list, and most of these bestsellers were published by small presses or the authors themselves. Two self-published books, "The Mill River Recluse" by Darcy Chan and "The Abbey" by Chris Culver, made it on Amazon's top 10 bestseller lists for 2011 of paper and e-books combined. 

Every aspiring author cannot write a bestseller overnight and instantly sell more books than Dan Brown, but the ability of self-published authors and small presses to compete in the e-book market as opposed to the somewhat stagnant, big media corporation-dominated world of print publishing and retail bookselling of the past offers a big change in diversity of voice and channel. Books and reading aren't dead by any means. They are more alive than ever.

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