It seems like every blog is jumping on a recent announcement that Amazon now sells more ebooks than physical books. The Millions uses the A-word. McArdle welcomes our new e-book overlords. I don't see the big woo.
All this does is highlight that Amazon.com has always been a terrible bookstore in one very key way: the customers only buy the idea of the book, not the physical object itself. Sure, the physical object shows up a few days later, but the decision to purchase is made in a void to begin with, so of course they are succeeding wildly at selling virtual books.
Now, if Amazon would release their numbers, and BN.com and any other ebook retailer would as well, then we could compare those sales figures to the overall numbers and really see where the market share is at. Anecdotally, I consistently hear that the Kindle has caused its users to purchase more books than they used to, so I wonder how much this surge of Amazon ebook purchasing is really cannibalizing paper sales. I know I've bought about five books more than I normally would since getting the Kindle. (If anything, the ease of purchase combined with a birthday gift certificate means that my little contribution to ebook sales has really only impacted my local library's circulation statistics.)
From a PR standpoint, Amazon is smart to tout this little nugget of news-bait, as it will cause no end of hand wringing from bibliophiles and bored newspaper columnists for a while. But it's sort of like Adobe being shocked that it's selling way more software via download than it is via shipping installation DVD-ROMs. Er, yeah, that future's here, but it's hardly obliterating the past.