Amazon Announces the Death of Paper Books

Last Updated Jul 30, 2010 4:22 PM EDT

Ebook prices and sales are interesting because they provide an important set of data about adoption of electronic media. And Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos has released a small piece of information that landed with a giant wallop: within the next 12 months, Amazon sales of ebooks will overtake its paperback sales, and "sometimes after that, we'll surpass the combination of paperback and hardcover." And a new generation of cheaper ebook readers from Amazon and others will only escalate the trend. Welcome to the death of the paper book.

Clearly I'm not saying that there will be no paper books. But in terms of the primacy of the medium, traditional print in books is over, and periodicals won't be far behind. That means not only publishers, but every industry that must provide information -- which means every industry -- must reconsider the forms in which it presents and distributes information. They day may soon come when, if you don't have an ebook, you don't have a reader, customer, or prospect.

What I found so remarkable about Bezos's statement is that, just about a week ago, Amazon said that ebook sales had finally grown larger than hardcover sales. This means that in a short period of time, Amazon's entire media model will turn upside down, and paper books remain on hand as a courtesy to consumers who want them.

This will continue to accelerate because of Amazon's plans to a third generation Kindle with prices as low as $139 (Wi-Fi only), improved contrast, double the onboard storage, and both smaller and lighter, even though it has the same size screen. This is a market where cheaper is probably better.

However, the ebook trend keeps getting broad, when your realize that, according to the Association of American Publishers, about 8.5 percent of all trade books sold are in an ebook format, and there will be a shakeout. Right now, everyone wants to lock down customers with a device that will, one way or another, drive consumers to a specific place to buy ebooks.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.