Rise of the Machines: Amazon e-book sales pass print

It’s a moment everyone always knew was coming, and it’s finally here: Amazon said yesterday that sales of Kindle downloads have officially sailed past print sales in the UK. Of course, it can say anything it likes, because its figures remain unaudited and, given the lack of further comment on the matter, look likely to remain that way. If you’re prepared to take the omnimegahyperconglomerate (or whatever) at its word, however, then for every 100 print books it has sold so far in 2012 in the UK, 114 of its paid-for e-books have been downloaded (and if you’re really, really bad at maths, that means that e-book sales are 14% higher than print sales). UK Kindle owners are apparently buying on average four times as many books now as they did before buying the device.

Predictably, Amazon is rather chuffed, and proclaiming the figures evidence of a ‘reading renaissance’, citing the ‘quick adoption’ of the Kindle that led to its becoming the site’s bestselling product in the UK. Despite its protests to the contrary, it also can’t hurt that they’re practically giving away a sizeable amount of digital titles – just this weekend, Alice Peterson’s Monday to Friday Man became the first book to oust Fifty Shades of Grey from the Amazon top three after it was sold in the Kindle store for 20p (a promotion that also includes titles by Alan Hollinghurst and Peter James).

The timing of the announcement is interesting, too, coming as it does just as four self-published authors crack the New York Times e-book bestseller list, all seven of their charting titles given a push by indie distributor Smashwords. That the charting titles are all romance and erotica suggests an audience finished with Fifty Shades and looking for more along similar lines, enabled in their quest by the social components of Kindle reading and the low risk payoff of cheap downloads. Cue endless thinkpieces about how it’s not just a reading revolution but a writing revolution too.