Amazon's Ebook Sales Outstrip Hardbacks For First time in US

Amazons' sales of digital books have outstripped US sales of hardbacks on its website for the first time.

Amazon declared that they had sold 143 digital books for its e-reader. Amazon said that in the most recent four weeks, the rate reached 180 ebooks for every 100 hardbacks sold.

Founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, said sales of the Kindle and ebooks had reached a "tipping point", with five authors including Steig Larsson, the writer of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and Stephenie Meyer, who penned the Twilight series, each selling more than 500,000 digital books. Earlier this month, Hachette said that James Patterson had sold 1.1m ebooks to date.

Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of the Bookseller, said the figures from Amazon were "eye-catching", but added a hint of cynicism. He said that while ebooks had outnumbered hardbacks in volume, they were likely to be some distance behind in value. Some of the bestsellers listed on the Kindle top 10 list today were retailing for as little as $1.16 (75p). Free downloads of books no longer in copyright were excluded from the figures.

It does not appear that the growth of ebooks is damaging sales of physical books. According to the Association of American Publishers, hardback sales are still growing in the US, up 22% this year.

The association says that ebook sales in the US account for 6% of the consumer book market. One publisher in London said the US is "two or three years ahead of us. But there is no reason to suppose we won't see the same thing happening here."

Royal Society of Authors, deputy general secretary Kate Pool, , said most authors would be "delighted" to sell large numbers of digital books. "If you speak to most authors, they couldn't bear to get rid of their old bookshelves, but if their readers want to read on an e-reader, then great. They are in it to earn a living after all."

The market for ebooks is still relatively small in Britain. The Publishers' Association released digital sales figures of around £150m last year, over 80% in the academic-professional sector, with only £5m in consumer sales.

The Kindle has been available in the UK since October, although customers still need to visit the US site and get the device delivered from America.

The books catalogue is currently only available through the American site and the titles are priced in dollars. A spokesman said there are 390,000 titles available for UK readers to download.

Amazon cut the price of its kindle device in June in response to the launch of Apple's iPad, which many believe could provide a substantial threat to the Kindle's market. Waterstones has sold ebooks from its website for the Sony Reader since September 2008 and will sell its one-millionth title this year.

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