The Death of the Hardback

This morning on NPR, Wendy Kaufman reported that Amazon.com now sells more e-books than hardbacks. While this is an interesting statistic, I don’t think it’s quite the portent of doom that the story made it out to be.  I noticed that Ms. Kaufman kept making the distinction that e-books were outselling hardbacks, not the total number of print books or even paperbacks.  A few minutes into the story, and after an interview with an iSchool professor from U of Washington (woo librarians!) Ms. Kaufman said that paperbacks are still the best selling book format on Amazon.com.  The company won’t release numbers of book sales or of Kindle units.  However, paperbacks are #1, e-books #2, hardbacks #3.  So p>e, e>h, and p+h>a lot more than e.  Isn’t fake math fun? 😉

This seems to be more about the death of the hardback than the death of the print book.  I think the real point here is one that can be easily inferred, but I think it should have been a part of the article.  If books don’t come out in hardback – will they ever come out in paperback?  To me, hardbacks are for people that need the book NOW.  My Harry Potter books are hardbacks – and pre-orders, because I NEEDED them the day they came out.  So, if a lot of die hards move to Kindle then they will get their insta-books digitally – so no more hardbacks (except for collectors and lovable luddites – or purists depending on your point of view).  Anyway – if books don’t come out in hardback will they come out in paperback?  Will titles that would traditionally be hardback be released in paperback right away?  Are we just losing that format or are we losing all print?

I actually don’t have a big emotional stake in the argument.  I love audiobooks (which I get digitally and instantly), I like print, and I like paperbacks, but I’m considering getting a kindle because books are heavy, there are some titles I’d rather read than listen to, and audiobooks can be very pricey.  As someone who works in libraries it might seem that I should take a stance, but we’ll adapt.  Whatever format information takes, I will be here to organize and provide access to it.

Kaufman, W. (2010) At Amazon, e-book sales outpace hardbacks. NPR Morning Edition, 20 July 2010.  Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128635547

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