Kindling a fire in the book supply chain

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Amazon is now selling more books in electronic format than in paperback.

According to its fourth quarter results, the online retailer is selling 115 Kindle books for every 100 paperbacks. And it now sells three times as many Kindle books as hardbacks.

It said: “This is across’s entire US book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.”

What makes it all the more remarkable is that Amazon only launched the Kindle in November 2007. So it has overtaken paperback sales in two years.

Amazon of course is only one retailer and there are still millions of paperbacks being sold. But Amazon is a massive player turning over £8.1 billion in the last quarter alone.

It’s hardly news that the growth of electronic media will have a big impact on the book supply chain: it is the rate of change that is significant.

HMV, which owns the Waterstone’s book chain in the UK, recently warned of tough trading conditions in the run-up to Christmas.

Ironically, supply chain initiatives helped Waterstone’s business outperform the rest of the group. “Improved like for like sales reflect the success of the turnaround actions implemented during 2010 and improved stock availabilities from the book hub,” HMV said.

When that new book hub at Burton-on-Trent was being developed in 2007, it would have been hard to predict the speed at which electronic book readers would take off.

Clearly, supply chain professionals in this sector are going to have to be particularly fleet-footed to stay ahead of market developments.

When Ray Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451” he foresaw book burning as an act of political control. What would he have made of fire kindled by an electronic device?

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