Amazon boasts bumper sales on eletronic books this Christmas

2010-01-06 00:00

IT was reported last week by Katie Allen in the British newspaper the Guardian that for the first time customers­ of the on-line book seller Amazon bought more e-books than printed books for Christmas. Amazon­ has announced that sales at its electronic book store quickly overtook orders for physical books. Its own e-reader, the Kindle, is now the most popular gift in Amazon’s history.

Amazon’s shares rose after a particularly­ good Christmas season. In her article, Allen reported that on Amazon’s peak day for sales, December­ 14, the retailer said that customers    ordered    more    than 9,5 million items worldwide, the equivalent of a record-breaking 110 items a second.

E-readers were one of the top-selling gadgets this Christmas, at least in the United States. Author Susan Hill in Howard’s End is on the Landing, her utterly delightful tale of the year that she spent reading from her own bookshelves and not buying  new  books,  describes  an e-reader as “something [that is] monotonous­-looking and made of plastic, is grey and has a screen”. Her book, a delectable, elegantly produced, colourful little hardback, was one of my Christmas presents.

After first taking off in the U.S., e-readers are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and the Kindle went on sale there in October. But it is not the only e-reader on the market­ and it seems inevitable that many more are going to appear.

Maybe Hill is leading a rearguard action, but some of her arguments for sticking to words on paper, packaged between covers, seem unanswerable to me. As she writes about the books on her shelves (it sounds as though her house has very little in it besides books — it must be heaven to visit), she talks about the ones that are signed by their authors­, the letters and cards that bring back memories as they fall from the pages where they have been hiding as bookmarks for years since the book was last taken down and read, and the ones with comments pencilled in the margins.

“No one will sign an electronic book, no one can annotate in the margin, no one can leave a love letter­ casually between the leaves,” she writes.

She goes on to say that if she had no books, but only a “small, flat, grey hand-held electronic device”, she would only need a very small house. And it would be tidy. But where would the fun be in that?

Perhaps in South Africa, it will be Eskom that will save the book. With a dodgy and unaffordable electricity supply, the e-reader could die on you at a cliffhanging moment. I suppose I can imagine circumstances when an e-reader could have its uses, but I’m not shelving my plans to put up yet more bookcases any time soon.

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