Amazon Announces It Sold More Kindle Books Than Physical Books On Christmas… But Doesn't It Mean Rented?

from the it-ain't-a-purchase-if-you-don't-own-it dept

Lots of folks have sent in various versions of Amazon’s hyped up press release about how it sold more ebooks on Christmas than physical books. While this ought to make some publishers reconsider their hatred of ebooks, there are two points that make this rather meaningless. First, how many physical books are usually sold on Amazon on Christmas day? My guess is not very many. Books are purchased before Christmas day. However, I’m sure plenty of people did get new Kindles on Christmas, and quite a few then went and “purchased” an ebook or two to test it out.

But, again, since this is the Kindle we’re talking about, shouldn’t Amazon make the distinction between purchased and rented? When someone buys a physical book from Amazon, they then own that book and can do pretty much what they want with it, including reselling it or giving it away. When they “purchase” an ebook from Amazon, that’s not the case at all. They’re quite limited in what they can do with it. They can’t resell it. They can’t share it with a friend (unless they give up their entire Kindle and all the books on it). And, of course, Amazon can make the ebook disappear at will — though, it insists it will never do this again. Even though it can. So, congrats to Amazon, for renting more books on a day when such rentals are to be expected and when physical book sales are probably at their very lowest.

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Comments on “Amazon Announces It Sold More Kindle Books Than Physical Books On Christmas… But Doesn't It Mean Rented?”

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tim says:

Re: Why rent?

I find people’s opinions of ebooks interesting and often not grounded in reality. I burn through a book a week. Physical books are heavy and and take up a lot of space. In addition – I rarely read a book more than once. So a book “disappearing” doesn’t bother me. Kindle’s ebooks are cheaper and I can read them on a number of different devices. The only physical books I purchase any more are cookbooks. Otherwise I’ve given away my library and reclaimed a ton of space.

In short – its the content that matters – not the form that its delivered in. The physical book is an outdated concept that will disappear within a decade or two.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why rent?

I find people’s opinions of ebooks interesting and often not grounded in reality.

ebooks are being received pretty much the way MP3’s were in the mid to late 90’s. the arguments are pretty much the same: poor quality, being tethered to your pc/player/whatever, etc. etc.

like the mp3, ebooks appeal to people who interested purely in the content and not necessarily in the package.
ebooks are great if you just want to read books, rather than collect and display them. bibliophiles, like their audiophile brethren, discount convenience, portability, and cost as useful features, if not salable commodities.

this is fine, and there will always be dead tree format books for the collectors of the world, just like there will always be vinyl or CD. the difference is that now there is a purely digital (and therefore hopefully cheaper) option for those of us who are only interested in the content.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why rent?

Actually, I’d argue that the main reason that digital music was poorly received was down to the way they were sold. The major labels were scared of MP3s, so they tried to ban them, then enforced DRM onto anybody willing to do business with them. this heavily fragmented the market as iPods were not compatible with anything but iTunes, and you have to have an iPod to use that.

Digital sales have increased and real competition introduced between retailers (albeit still at the whim of the major content providers) once DRM was removed and actual MP3s were available.

Besides, the major problem with eBooks at the moment are not just the DRM that’s heavily enforced by devices like the kindle, but the fact that they’re worth less and cost more. I can buy a second hand paperback for less than $5, loan it to friends, give it away or sell it when I’m finished and I’m at no risk of not being able to read it again if I wish because the provider’s DRM terms have changed. I prefer physical books because I can trade them in for other books at a major discount to the normal cover price of my next book. Try doing that with your next Kindle purchase.

Maybe this will change once DRM-free books become available, or the price of the DRM-laden rentals actually falls well below the cost of the physical item, but for now you’re fooling yourself if you think it’s worth the money.

If you want an example, The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown is currently $12 for the hardcover, $10.99 for a used marketplace copy and $13.79 for the Kindle version. Unless you hate carrying a book *that* much, why would you not simply resell it when you finish it, regaining most of the value? It certainly makes more sense to my mind than buying a Kindle copy that you can never, ever loan or resell and can be removed by Amazon at any time.

It’s about common sense, not some form of collecting obsession or elitism.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Why rent?

It’s about common sense, not some form of collecting obsession or elitism.

it’s not hard to get ebooks (or mp3s) without DRM on them, for free. when you compare that to the MP3 of 12 years ago which was also free and without DRM, you get the same responses:

“i don’t want to listen to read/listen on my computer”
“i like books/CDs better”

among my peers, cost and DRM are not a factor, since we don’t deal much with either, it boils down to how you like to consume content: fast and purely digital, or in a higher quality physical medium.

at some point, either the ebook equivalent of itunes will emerge, or ebook sharing will become more widespread. either way, the cost+DRM problem will be handled, and the digital vs. physical debate will be all that remains.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Why rent?

I hope when your Kindle fails you, you regret the decision to give away your books. I find the claim that people’s opinions are ‘not grounded in reality’ as bizarre. If an eBook reader suits you, that is fine, but meanwhile I will continue to be sentimental and keep my books, which I repeatedly read, without feeling any pressure to finish it before Amazon sweep it away when my rental time has expired.

interval says:

Re: Why rent?

“I don’t like the idea of being in the middle of reading a book and having it deleted by Amazon.”

I don’t either. That’s why I will never buy a DRM’d book. Interestingly, at least from my POV, I find all the ebooks I want to read for free. There are a few exceptions, of course, but I think its high time publishers face the real world. I’m never going back to paper.

mattarse (profile) says:

Re: Don't get it

I normally read several (right now I have 3 going and may start another) books at once, and finish probably 3-4 a month. When I go on vacation it always frustrates me not to have the variety I normally have. For this I would love to have an ebook reader – the unlikely chance that the battery would permanently die etc while on vacation would be a risk worth taking.

But since I use the library extensively and sale alot of the books I do buy – the cost is prohibitive. If you factor in that more than half the books I read come from my library membership, the sale of bought books etc, then I doubt I spend more than a couple of dollars per book read. I can’t believe people are willing to pay the $250 or so for the device and then not even get a steep discount on buying the books.

Tore V. (profile) says:

Re: Don't get it

Personally, while I have a Sony Reader, i use it because I can have my entire library on it and I have HUGE amounts of books, about 500. When I’m on holiday, I tend to read a book a day. I read on the bus to work, I read on the train… I can carry each and every book with me, reading comfortably. I don’t really have to worry about battery life since it lasts over a month. It really only uses a tiny trickle of power and I can read about 6500 pages on one charge.

Andrew Clarke (user link) says:

Re: Don't get it

You don’t get it because your unwilling to scratch below the surface. And, no, it’s not just marketing. The kindle makes reading and purchasing the reading material easy – we always look for easier ways to do things. One reason why sales may be high is that Kindle and some other eReaders satisfy the urge to impulse purchase. I’m not saying this is a good thing, it just is. I own a Kindle and love being able to read multiple books at a time, annotate them and pickup where I left off with ease. It just works for me, that’s all.

Paul Renault (profile) says:

A Halfway Solution?

Amazon will not give up on a profitable business model, even if it’s bad for the Commons. Even though, theoretically, the reason we allow businesses like Amazon to exist and to do as they please, is that it’s better for the Commons.

The only thing I can propose that might be acceptable to ebook publishers, is have a shortish lifespan for the DRM of electronic versions of books. After a number of years, most books’ value diminishes rapidly; and all/most ereaders will be broken, or superseded and/or overtaken by new technology or by a new distribution model, so their DRM-ed content will be useless/valueless.

The ‘lease’ model that Mike decries would be applied, in the manner of poetic justice, to the DRM itself: e-books’ DRM should/could be legal for only ten years, after which keys to unlock the DRM are published. The keys would have to be registered with whatever government organization takes care of copyright when the publisher first gains copyright and these would be released/published at the end of the DRM’s ten-year life.

The publisher would be forced to market the books properly, as their ‘life’ would be shorter. In instances where a publisher goes belly up, the wait would be somewhat less than the near-infinite time it would take to crack the DRM’s crypto.

The fact that dead-tree books are now very easily and very quickly digitized en masse by groups of people or Google’s nifty book-scanning rig, challenges publishers’ (un)righteously indignant squawks to rest: They ARE being digitized now, anyway. Welcome to the 21st Century.

Designerfx (profile) says:

Re: A Halfway Solution?

there already is a short lifespan – it’s just not been defined because then nobody would buy the books (as that’s still a rental).

What you have is called “you have no idea when Amazon’s DRM is going to break, but when it does, or they choose to stop supporting their DRM server, you’re going to lose your books”

Google’s scanning is crap, at least when I tried it previously. Based off of that and due to how it tracks, you can’t even read something if you chose to do so. Only about 5 pages usually, I forgot what the default is but it’s not “the entire pdf of a scanned book”.

Completely useless, is what it all is. People just don’t want to give up their purchase/commitment even if there are better options, much like if someone bought you an iphone but it was 3g instead of 3gs.

interval says:

Re: A Halfway Solution?

Paul Renault: “After a number of years, most books’ value diminishes rapidly…”

If you’re buying books as an investment I’m glad I’m not on your retirement plan. Unless you’re able to find good deals on first editions of classics or rare, very old, folios, manuscripts, & illuminated works, forget referring to the monetary value of a book, its just not worth dealing with. In which case it was no value in this discussion, since we’re dealing with eBooks. Now, if we refer to the value of a book for reference, or because we simply enjoy reading it, I’m all on board. In fact, I re-iterate how much I value eBooks. I can take all this material for reference that used to take up walls of space in my house now and put them in my pocket. Plus I can search for information I want via electronic means, even if its in text format. THAT is real value, and why eBooks are hardly going away. In fact, I hope the industry has just gotten started. Remember the Jukeboxes for mp3s? An net-aware appliance for textual information. There, I just pulled that out of my ass. There must be more possibilities. The publishers are sitting on a gold mine and they are locked into paper books. What asses.

Anonymous Coward says:


I don’t understand your obsession with criticizing amazon kindle. Yes. Most of the applications/data purchased on mobile devices are more like renting. What is new about it? Why are you targeting Amazon in particular?

I don’t see amazon even over-promoting this fact. From a cursory look I couldnt even find a link from its homepage (I am sure there is a link, but it is not very obvious).

Shell says:

Kindle vs. X

I bought my husband a Sony Touch Reader for Christmas. Sony’s sales must’ve been very good as well — he couldn’t download Sony’s software for two days because of site traffic. At first we were worried there was a problem with his Reader but sure enough, it was on Sony’s end. A little patience resolved the issue and now he’s happily reading the 200+ books he loaded on the SD card.

WammerJammer (profile) says:

Kindle?? You have to be kidding.

Like I said before. The only ones really making money off the Kindle and Netbooks are the Eye Glasses retailers and the Optometrists. Can anyone really read on such a small screen?
I’ll pass on the small screen, and buy regular books that I can keep.
The same with an iPhone, you don’t own the apps and if you cancel the service you lose everything.
At least with a new PC / Laptop you can move and keep your old (Books) and files. I’ll stay with old school. The idea that someone wants a smaller screen or reading area is stupid.
Since most of the people in the US can’t read worth a damn anyway, maybe it is a good thing.

The Anti-Mike says:

Rented? Not Really

Mike, you don’t rent e-books, like most IP goods, you purchase certain rights. Ebooks don’t have certain properties of physical books, and certain resale or transfer rights might to be as easy to use, or may be very restricted.

The technology is in it’s infancy, and yet all these sales seem to suggest that the public is more than willing to operate under these conditions. I know you hate the idea, but the public seems willing to work with it.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Rented? Not Really

“but the public seems willing to work with it.”

That would make sense if, as I’ve complained about before, such distinctions were made abundantly clear at the purchase point. Whether through obfuscation by the retailer or willful customer ignorance, or more likely a combination of both, I doubt most consumers are currently aware of the conditions under which they are currently purchasing, likely because, as you stated, the technology is still in its infancy.

As are the methods by which content producers will abuse it….

The Anti-Mike says:

Re: Re: Rented? Not Really

It didn’t take me long to find the terms, and they don’t even use legalese to try to hide it:

The Kindle Store. The Kindle Store enables you to download, display and use on your Device a variety of digitized electronic content, such as books, subscriptions to magazines, newspapers, journals and other periodicals, blogs, RSS feeds, and other digital content, as determined by Amazon from time to time (individually and collectively, “Digital Content”).

Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

Restrictions. Unless specifically indicated otherwise, you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party, and you may not remove any proprietary notices or labels on the Digital Content. In addition, you may not, and you will not encourage, assist or authorize any other person to, bypass, modify, defeat or circumvent security features that protect the Digital Content.

Subscriptions. The following applies with respect to Digital Content made available to you on a subscription basis, including, but not limited to, electronic newspapers, magazines, journals and other periodicals (collectively, “Periodicals”): (i) you may request cancellation of your subscription by following the cancellation instructions in the Kindle Store; (ii) we may terminate a subscription at our discretion without notice, for example, if a Periodical is no longer available; (iii) if we terminate a subscription in advance of the end of its term, we will give you a prorated refund; (iv) we reserve the right to change subscription terms and fees from time to time, effective as of the beginning of the next term; and (v) taxes may apply to subscription fees and will be added if applicable.

The issue of resale will likely be addressed in the future. I am suspecting that there will be a clearing house that will allow you to transfer works from one kindle to another, but in part that will have to verify that there are no remaining digital copies on your Kindle. That is the real issue of digital “resale”, you can easily retain a copy and transfer it as well, effectively creating pirated copies.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Rented? Not Really

Well, that seems to spell things out fairly well, though a couple of obvious quesitons arise:

1. Why can’t they also put this in a summary language to explain to the average person what the hell they’re talking about instead of keeping it only in legalese?

2. Where in any of that is the retention of the right to remove content from your hardware that you’ve purchased? It specifically says permanent copy, so how can that jive with that capability?

3. If we’re buying less of a product with eBooks (e.g. not physical, no right to resell, no right to share, etc.), how is that reflected in the price of the eBook? Is there a relatively constant price fractioning to reflect this difference? If not, how does that make sense?

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Rented? Not Really

Your average consumer believes that when they go to Amazon, add an item to their cart, check out, pay and receive their item that they have bought it and now they own it. Nobody is going through the terms of service to make sure that ebooks are the same – your average consumer is not that suspicious (and before anyone says it, no, I refuse to blame that on the consumers when the company is clearly benefiting from their ignorance)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Rented? Not Really

“The issue of resale will likely be addressed in the future.”

I doubt it, somehow. It never happened with DRMed music, nor audiobooks and hasn’t happened with movies. Even if it did become available, the resale market would be limited to other Kindle users, probably restricted by physical location, and so still worth less than the physical resale market.

“That is the real issue of digital “resale”, you can easily retain a copy and transfer it as well, effectively creating pirated copies.”

That happens anyway, even with the restrictions. The new DRM that comes with the Kindle could easily have been designed with resales in mind (authenticated through Amazon, who would know how many copies you initially bought), but they haven’t.

Funnily enough, restricting what legitimate customers can do does not prevent the pirates from doing their thing – it only makes devices like the Kindle less attractive for paying customers. The lack of resale value makes the eBooks less valuable, and until prices drop in kind I don’t see why they should become anything other than a niche market. Then again, I also don’t comprehend why someone would pay close to full hardcover price for a book on the iPhone but people apparently do that as well…

The Anti-Mike says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Rented? Not Really

it only makes devices like the Kindle less attractive for paying customers.

Which is why the are selling so well, right?

DRM would work if people weren’t working so hard to get around it. A fully working DRM system would allow for transfer from device to device. But most people are too much in a hurry to hack and try to get something for nothing, so it’s hard to make it stick.

autonomous aardvark says:

Re: Rented? Not Really

I have many books on shelves which I have not really purchased? Should I expect a knock on the door asking for the books back or will they just break in and take them?

Limited rights purchases should be explicitly stated as such. Apparently this is not being done yet.

Just because some people in the public are willing to go along with something does not imply it is a good idea.

Helter says:

there's a reason to rent

It’s usually because it’s cheaper. If they priced ebooks at a more reasonable level, I’d jump on either a kindle or a nook. I don’t have a problem with the limitations of the kindle per se, but I do have a problem with paying $10 for a book that has those limitations. I’m fine with not being able to lend it out, amazon possibly deleting it, and never being able to export it away from my kindle. If I’m going to accept those restrictions though, I should get the book for $4-5, rather than $10.
to be honest, at that price point I’d probably spent more money on books overall than I do right now.

Michael L. Slonecker (profile) says:

My wife and daughter each gave me a book for Christmas. Imagine my shock when I notice that each bore a copyright notice stating, in essence, that I am not authorized to copy either of the books and give such copies to the masses.

Darn those hardback publishers. And here I thought I actually owned the book when in fact it appears all I have are rented copies.

This is downright un-American and an unjust infringment upon my civil rights as secured by the US Constitution and the laws enacted pursuant thereto.

Taking a cue from so-called “Tea Baggers” I am starting a “Copyright Whining Baggers” movement.

BigKeithO says:

Re: Re:

The DRM in the Kindle can, and has in the past, allowed Amazon to remove a copy of a book from your Kindle without any sort of notification or recourse from the owne… er, renter of the book.

I have a hard time believing that “those darn hardback publishers” are going to show up at your door demanding their books back anytime soon. See the difference?

Try again.

lux (profile) says:

This is iffy Mike:

Apart from the hiccup above…

If I purchase an app from the AppStore, I can’t give it away and am quite limited in my use of it. Does this mean apple isn’t really selling anything? I would think not. So why bash Amazon for selling/renting (read: making money) on eBooks instead of physical books. Wouldn’t you like this news? Technology trumps the brick-and-mortar? No? Ok.

AJ says:

Re: Re: DRM...

More like make an exact copy of the seat and take it home with you, it’s hard for your average Joe to see a loss in that…. I’m not saying its right, I’m just saying that’s how people think. It’s hard to convince people that what they are doing is wrong, while you have them bent over a chair. With Sony’s root kit, problems with DRM servers, and countless other problems that have surfaced with DRM, you can’t honestly expect them to like or want to use it regardless of how “good” it is. In the end, the people will decide what they think is best and right, companies can either embrace it and try to figure out how to make money with/from it, or become the consumers enemy and be defeated.

Rooker (user link) says:

This is the main reason why I will never buy a Kindle. This is the reason why I refuse to buy music or video games that come with DRM.

Amazon is not “selling” those books and should not be permitted to claim that they are. The FTC should take a hard look at this behavior. I believe they are scamming people with deceptive language and glossing over the reality of what they are doing.

When I buy something, that something becomes my private property and is legally under my control. That is not what happens when you pay for an e-book from Amazon.

If Amazon were actually “selling” those book, then they would have committed trespassing and burglary on a very large scale a few months ago when they destroyed copies of George Orwell and JK Rowling books. That was an unbelievably stupid act and they destroyed their image forever in my eyes.

Paul Renault (profile) says:

Designerfx and Interval,

I should have been clearer: “After a number of years, most books’ value diminishes rapidly”, I meant the value to the publishers.

And I agree: “What you have is called “you have no idea when Amazon’s DRM is going to break, but when it does, or they choose to stop supporting their DRM server, you’re going to lose your books”.”
Hence the key publishing scheme.

And I need to underscore that I was talking about Google’s nifty DIGITIZING rig. No ‘scan-quality’ issues.

For the record: I own an e-reader. For about a year and a half. No, not a Kindle. An iLiad.
I’ve read about 1,900 documents on it so far – none of which was DRMed – of which about 20 are books. For me, an e-reader is better than a book. More comfortable to read, lighter, and much simpler than carrying a book around, as I travel a lot for my work.

JulsE (profile) says:

I love my Kindle!! It seems to me that the negative comments I have read are coming from those that have never used an e reader and/or are not avid readers. Kindles and other such devices will take over all forms of print. School books, college books, as well as magazines and newspapers will all be on e readers. It won’t happen overnight of course, but we are on our way. There is just no logical reason to keep printing on paper.

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