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Phones, PCs put e-book within reach of Kindle-less

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E-book sales reported to the Association of American Publishers have been rising sharply since the beginning of 2008, just after the release of the Kindle. It’s the best sustained growth the industry has seen since the International Digital Publishing Forum began tracking sales in 2002 — a sign that e-books finally could be about to break into the mainstream.

U.S. trade e-book sales in the April to June period this year more than tripled from the amount a year ago, as reported by about a dozen publishers.

Total reported sales at wholesale prices were $37.6 million. That’s less than 2 percent of the overall book market, but the number understates e-book sales, because not all publishers contribute to the report. The figure also excludes textbooks, an area where e-books have made substantial inroads.

While other digital media like CDs, DVDs and MP3 songs showed sharp growth rates from the get-go, e-books have puttered around as a tiny fraction of overall book sales for more than a decade. In several periods, sales actually declined from year to year as publishers wavered in their commitment and interest.

The technology has also faced unique resistance from consumers because printed books work so well.

The most well-known dedicated reading devices, the Kindle and Sony Corp.’s Reader, try to emulate the look of the printed page with a display technology known as “electronic ink.”

While many find the result pleasant to read, e-ink also imposes significant limitations on the devices. They can’t be backlit like other screens. They can’t show color. They’re also slow to update, making them difficult to use for Web browsing or other computer activities.

The Kindle has a wireless connection directly to Amazon’s store, meaning users can buy and download books to the device within minutes, much like Castaldo could do on his smart phone. The Reader lacks a wireless capability and thus needs to be connected to a computer to load books.

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