In 1995, the year Amazon opened the virtual doors to its online bookstore, the company posted revenue of $511,000—a total that jumped to $15.7 million in 1996 and skyrocketed to $147.7 million in 1997. By 1999 annual sales reached $1.64 billion, and the company began to aggressively implement founder Jeff Bezos’s strategy of adding more products to complement its book offerings. In 1998, Amazon added music and DVD/videos to the mix; in 1999 electronics, toys, home improvement items, software, and video games were added to Amazon’s selection.

Books were Amazon’s largest product category as recently as 2008, but in 2015 their share of the company’s total revenue—which could hit $100 billion soon—is shrinking. As the company quietly marks its 20th year in the book business, executives said that books are still in Amazon’s DNA. “Books are home for us, and we remain committed to providing the best bookstore in the world for our customers,” said Russ Grandinetti, senior v-p, Kindle.

And even though Amazon offers much more than books, the company has been one of the biggest (if not the biggest) innovators the book business as ever seen. From customer reviews to the Look Inside the Book feature and the launch of third-party selling, new Amazon services have often changed industry standards—and they are usually met with some controversy.

For example, before it entered the e-book business, Amazon angered publishers with its aggressive tactics toward selling used books. But the company pressed on and in 2008 Amazon cemented its place as the most important seller of used books when it bought AbeBooks, an online marketplace for used and rare books that was its largest competitor in that market.

Though Amazon can cite plenty of innovations, its most important moment in the book business came in 2007, when the company introduced its dedicated e-reading device, the Kindle, and simultaneously launched the Kindle e-bookstore. Today, e-books are sold in all 14 countries where Amazon operates local stores (print books are available in 12 stores). In addition to the local stores, Grandinetti noted that “we sell both print and digital books to customers in nearly every country worldwide.”

The importance of e-books to Amazon can be seen in a few different ways. Of Amazon’s 20 all-time bestsellers (in any format), only two were originally released prior to Kindle’s 2007 launch. (Another observation from the top-20 list is that all the titles are fiction except StengthsFinder 2.0 and Heaven is for Real). Second, in 2011, Amazon customers bought more e-books than print books for the first time, a trend that continues today. Despite an industry-wide slowdown in e-book sales, Grandinetti said Amazon continues to see a transition from print to digital, adding that “our Kindle business is growing.”

One of Amazon’s fastest-selling e-book categories has been digital comics, a trend that contributed to Amazon’s decision to buy Comixology, the dominant digital comics marketplace, in 2014. On the print side, Grandinetti said Amazon’s health/wellness and spirituality categories have seen good growth, and the company has been very happy with sales in its textbook rental business.

Along with introducing its own innovations, Amazon has expanded its book business through a number of strategic purchases. In addition to AbeBooks and Comixology, important acquisitions include Brilliance Audio (2007), Audible (2008), and Goodreads (2013).

Grandinetti declined to say how many copies of books Amazon has sold since its launch, only noting that, worldwide, the company now offers “10s of millions of titles available across all formats.” Grandinetti also made it clear that Amazon will continue to add to its offerings in both book and nonbook areas. “We’ve long said that one of the wonderful things about e-commerce is that stores don’t have to trade breadth for depth,” he said. “Expanding beyond books never meant that we had to trade off on building the world’s best bookstore.”


Amazon launched its online bookstore with one million titles


Hourly sales ranking of bestselling titles introduced on Amazon’s site


Using algorithms, Amazon launched personalized recommendations for readers: “Customers who bought X also bought Y”


Amazon entered the third-party selling business with the introduction of Amazon Marketplace


Debut of the Look Inside the Book feature, which allows customers to search and sample a book, debuted


The Kindle, a dedicated e-reading device, is introduced, along with the Kindle Store, which had 90,000 e-books at launch


2007 also saw the launch of the self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (originally known as Digital Text Platform)


Amazon introduced its first reading apps, which allow consumers to read Kindle books on other e-readers


The company entered the textbook rental market, offering thousands of textbooks for rent by the semester


Amazon starts its own subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, which now offers more than one million e-books, plus thousands of audiobook titles

Amazon’s All-time Bestselling Books

Rank Title Author Pub Date
1 Fifty Shades of Grey E.L. James 2011
2 The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins 2008
3 Catching Fire Suzanne Collins 2009
4 Mockingjay Suzanne Collins 2010
5 Fifty Shades Darker E.L. James 2012
6 Fifty Shades Freed E.L. James 2012
7 Gone Girl Gillian Flynn 2012
8 The Help Kathryn Stockett 2009
9 Unbroken Laura Hillenbrand 2010
10 The Fault in Our Stars John Green 2012
11 StrengthsFinder 2.0 Tom Rath 2007
12 Divergent Veronica Roth 2011
13 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson 2008
14 Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest Stieg Larsson 2010
15 Insurgent Veronica Roth 2012
16 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J.K. Rowling 2007
17 Heaven Is for Real Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent 2010
18 The Girl Who Played with Fire Stieg Larsson 2009
19 The Book Thief Markus Zusak 2006
20 Water for Elephants Sara Gruen 2006