Apple caused a stir last week when it announced that it sold 7.3 million iPads in the quarter ended December 25, bringing the number of devices it has sold since it released the iPad last April to nearly 15 million. But even as the iPad gains traction among book buyers, the clear winner in the first stages of the book industry's digital transition is Amazon. A survey of 6,250 frequent book buyers conducted by the Codex Group in early November found more book buyers acquiring their e-books for the iPad from Amazon's Kindle store rather than through Apple's iBookstore, with the Kindle store accounting for 40% of e-book sales for the iPad and the iBookstore 29% (one factor limiting sales through the iBookstore is that Random House e-books are not directly available there because RH is not using the agency model).
While Apple has already sold over three times more iPads in just nine months than Amazon is estimated to have sold Kindles in three years, the sale of Kindles has had a huge impact in increasing Amazon's "share of wallet" among book buyers, the Codex survey found. Before acquiring a Kindle, book buyers made about 14% of their unit purchases at Amazon, a figure that tripled to just over 37% after they bought a Kindle. "It's the most amazing retail share growth strategy I've ever seen," said Codex president Peter Hildick-Smith, who has also worked extensively in developing retail growth strategies for stores ranging from Wal-Mart to Harrods. The increase in market share came entirely from book buyers' added purchase of e-books, with 28.1% of all unit buys of frequent book buyers coming from the Kindle store. But Hildick-Smith said it was equally impressive that Amazon was able to hang on to almost the same market share of book buyers' print purchases even as buyers were substantially increasing their e-book purchases.
While e-book purchases do not appear to be cannibalizing print sales at Amazon, the Kindle store has to be taking sales away from somewhere, and Hildick-Smith believes it is from bricks-and-mortar stores. With the decline in the number of bookstores, publishers are losing not only the top sales channel but the most important showcase for their new titles. According to the Codex survey, bookstores remain, by far, the most important way book buyers learn about new books: 28% of all book buyers said they learned about the last book they bought by browsing in a bookstore or through a bookstore display, while 14.5% were discovered through a friend's recommendation. Even among iPad users, 32% of device owners learned about their last book purchased through digital sources (an e-bookstore, author Web site, and other sources), but 23% discovered the book they bought at a bookstore.
The Codex survey also found that while publishers are spending lots of time and money promoting books and authors through social media, few book buyers are learning about books from sources such as search engines, social networks, and Twitter, even though more book buyers use Google and Facebook (but not so much Twitter) than any other media by far. Fewer than 2% of book shoppers said they learned about the last book they bought through these major digital media. Hildick-Smith said publishers are correct in trying to use digital channels to promote books, but they need to improve their approach. "They haven't found the right way to use them yet," he said, noting that with so much information available online, if a book's message isn't short and irresistible, it simply can't break through. "You just can't throw something up on YouTube and expect to get lots of views, let alone a purchase conversion," he noted. "The technology's a given. It's now all about how truly creative and engaging the publisher's book message can be."
What has Hildick-Smith really worried, however, is whether publishers have concrete plans to protect their bookstore base. If not, they need to quickly find an alternative primary source for the discovery of new books, especially for nonfiction, debut, and midlist fiction titles that, at present, sell in much fewer numbers as e-books than fiction does. Absent a strategy, Hildick-Smith sees the big winner going forward as, no surprise, Amazon.