At the very end of 2008, I told my wife (a voracious reader) that I realized I had gone the entire year without reading a single book cover-to-cover. Sure, I'd listened to a couple audiobooks and I'd actually bought two or three hardbacks, but I had not completely read a single one.
Something about that really bothered me.
I had tried the Kindle and decided that it was a breakthrough device with a lot of potential, but it didn't really change my reading habits. It just sat on my night table on top of the other unread books. Between the crazy pace of my job in the digital universe and trying to raise two kids and be a good husband, I just didn't have time to read any more.
Then, a strange thing happened. In March 2009, Amazon released a Kindle app for the iPhone, and I thought, "Why on earth would I ever want to read a book on that little screen?" But, since I work in tech and I'm interested in new media, I felt obligated to give it a try -- if only to warn people against it, if it was truly as silly of an idea as I thought it was.
But, within a couple months I had completely read three books using the iPhone Kindle app. The secret? The phone was always with me. In the snatches of time while I was waiting in line, waiting at the doctor's office, waiting at the airport, or in the hotel room at night when I was traveling, I was able to whip out the iPhone and read. I was stunned at how quickly I was able to get through an entire book in just these short bursts of time.
Looking back at my Amazon purchase history, I ended up buying 10 Kindle books in 2009 and I read virtually all of them, all on the iPhone.
That makes it a little easier for me to understand why 2010 has turned into a watershed year for ebooks. This summer Amazon surprised the reading world by announcing ebooks are now outselling hardbacks.
Even Amazon itself seemed astounded by the pace of the transition. CEO Jeff Bezos described the shift as "astonishing when you consider that we've been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months."
Part of that has to do with devices. Kindle is everywhere now. In addition to iPhone, it also has apps for Android and BlackBerry phones. It has apps for Macs and PCs. And it created an app to conincide with the launch of the Apple iPad -- the device many people expected to kill Amazon's own Kindle ereader. The iPad has its own ebook software, iBooks, but most of the iPad users I know actually prefer the Kindle app, either because they already had a library of Kindle ebooks or simply because it has more book titles available. The iPad has also driven down the price of dedicated ereaders, with many of them (including Amazon's latest device) now available for $150 or less.
As a result, so far in 2010 total ebook sales have quadrupled, according to the Association of American Publishers. Amazon ebook chief Steve Kessel also recently predicted that by the end of 2011, ebooks will surpass paperbacks as well. "Sometime after that we will start selling more Kindle books than hard covers and paperbacks combined," Kessel added.
Don't get me wrong, I still like paper books and I'll still occasionally buy some of my very favorite books in hardback. But, it's almost done in the same spirit as buying antiques. For books that I really want to read right away, I don't buy them unless they're in ebook or audiobook format. Otherwise, I'll never get around to reading them.