Over at KindleNationDaily there's an odd piece with a headline that could, maybe, storm the publishing world: "Kindle edition of The Lost Symbol outselling Amazon hardcovers." Could Dan Brown's new book be heralding the e-book age?
Think of the ridiculous number of copies of The Da Vinci Code that were sold (80 million), and remember how you used to see that damn book cover on the subway, bus, train and plane four or five times a day for a year or so. And then think of the coming electronic book age, with Amazon's Kindle blazing the trail, and a whole gaggle of different enterprises following along. Now combine these two thoughts. That's the sort of idea that Stephen Windwalker's trying to get across in the piece on his KND blog that noted as of 10:30am EDT yesterday the Kindle version of Dan Brown's hotly-tipped new book was outselling the hardcover version, as shown by Amazon's own rankings.
Windwalker's chief conclusion from this fact is that the "Kindle edition of The Lost Symbol is the top selling item in the biggest bookstore in the world" and that, frankly, is an astounding symbol all by itself: The electronic book age is really about to burst upon us.
But before you get too excited, let's think about things for a second: Can this possibly be "real" data? Obviously it's true, and the "auto-delivered wirelessly" version is in fact still number one at Amazon, but people don't just buy books from Amazon—bricks and mortar bookstores aren't dead yet. It'll take a while for sales data on the physical copies these stores sell to emerge. And, if experience is anything to go by, The Lost Symbol will be one of those books that literally flies off the shelves at airport bookstores as people snag a copy to digest during their flights. Before long every newsagent, department store, supermarket chain and, frankly, pet shop will have the book on sale too—particularly when it goes softcover.
So while Amazon is indeed the world's biggest bookstore, the Amazon sales figures don't necessarily map too well onto the total sales profile for this book. And how many Kindles are there anyway? Can the installed userbase really be big enough to rival customers for a physical copy of the book? While Amazon keeps the Kindle's sales figure a secret, I'll answer this right now: No. And not just because the Kindle is U.S. only, and even including the vast numbers of people who'll access the Kindle store through their iPhone or iPod Touch. The Kindle just isn't that popular yet.
What the sales figures do demonstrate is that the electronic book age is very close. People are buying the electronic version in greater numbers than the hardcover version, from the very online bookstore that sells the (assumed) world's best-selling e-book (at least at the moment—the sales rankings vary with hourly data.) Maybe it's because it's one third of the list price of the hardcover—$9.99 versus $29.99, though Amazon's got a $16.17 deal on the hardcopy. Maybe the hardcover sales will take off as the hype machine clicks into high gear to promote the book. However it happens, sales figures for the physical book will leave the Kindle sales in the dust soon.
But with so many e-readers on the cards, globally, and with paradigm-shifting tech like Apple's iTablet apparently on the way, maybe Dan Brown's next mystery-detective novel will be the first electronic book blockbuster.