The folks at Amazon announced a few weeks ago that in the US, they were selling more books for Kindle than hardcovers. And now they've further announced that in the UK, their eBook sales are greater than their sales of any printed books.
This information needs to be taken with the caution that other retailers are still selling printed books, so that the total number of books sold may still be greater in print than in electronic form. Still, it's a major milestone, especially given that the Amazon people aren't counting free downloads of books no longer in copyright, books that people might actually be buying in printed copies if not for e-readers.
I'm torn about this. I like books. But I also like reading ebooks, especially in transit, because it's so much easier than schlepping paper copies. I've preferred my news in electronic form for years: I get fussy about the ink that rubs off on my hands when I read.
Environmental impact? up in the air. I read ebooks on both Kindle and iPad these days. I use the iPad instead of a laptop much of the time, so using it to read books is a bonus activity -- I chalk up the impact of production to other purposes. The Kindle, on the other hand, is a single-purpose device, purchased and used only for reading books. I might be able to read periodicals on it, but I haven't explored that capacity.
Amazon isn't telling what chemicals and rare metals they're using in their various Kindle products, so it's difficult to make an adequate comparison of the impact of production (and eventual disposal) compared to production, shipping, and storage costs involved with printed books.'
The whole family uses our Kindle, and since we bought it last year, we've probably collectively read at least three dozen books on it. One calculation comparing the two assumes reading three books per month, so that puts us on track to come out ahead, assuming nobody sits on the thing or spills a cup of coffee over it.
In any case, electronic books are a new reality. Manuscripts co-existed with printed books for a couple of centuries, and it will likely be a long time before ebooks completely supplant printed books. But eventually, it's probably safe to say, they will. I wonder how they'll change our habits of thinking?