Readers are now buying more e-books than printed books


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The Independent Culture

Readers are now buying more e-books than printed books, Britain’s biggest bookseller announced yesterday.

Amazon said that for every 100 physical paperbacks and hardbacks, customers had downloaded 114 titles to its Kindle e-reader.

The online giant's UK website - which started selling books in 1998 - reached the tipping point quicker than it did in the US, where it took almost four years for ‘e’ to outsell ‘p’.

While the news does not mean that e-books are now outselling physical books across the UK, it does mark a turning point for the printed word. High street bookshops are struggling amid the dominance of the US online giant and e-reading devices, notably the Kindle.

By driving down prices by offering proportionately higher royalties for lower-priced e-books, has been accused of undermining the value of literature and endangering the future of publishers.

Many Kindle titles are a fraction of the price of printed books, while classics by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are free.

Amazon also publishes titles direct by authors, who can now do without having to seek the approval of traditional publishing houses – which both frees writers and arguably lowers standards.

Speaking at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate last week, the crime writer Mark Billingham criticised the growing self-publishing industry, describing it as “shifting units” to “punters”.

The audience applauded Mr Billingham, author of the Tom Thorne detective series, when he said books were devalued if they were sold for “less than half the price of a cup of tea”.

Amazon suggested that the Kindle had led to more people reading books and had expanded the whole of UK publishing.

Its sales figures showed that Kindle readers bought four times the number of books they did prior to owning the device, as well as continuing to buy physical books.

Jorrit Van der Meulen, vice president of Kindle EU, said: “As a result of the success of Kindle, we’re selling more books than ever before on behalf of authors and publishers. And thanks to Kindle Direct Publishing, thousands of self-published authors have also been given an outlet to share their work with the millions of Kindle readers worldwide.”

Amazon said that if it had included free books, the ratio of 114 Kindle downloads to 100 purchases of physical books would have been even higher.

“Customers in the UK are now choosing Kindle books more often than print books, even as our print business continues to grow,” said Mr Van der Meulen said:

“We hit this milestone in the US less than four years after introducing Kindle, so to reach this landmark after just two years in the UK is remarkable and shows how quickly UK readers are embracing Kindle.”