“When will the book be available in paper?”

“When will the book be available in paper?”

Customer: “I’d like ten copies of ‘Bregalad’s Story’ in hardback.”

Bookseller: “Sure. Plant this pinecone and come back in ten years.”


I recently wrote about how

George Orwell’s

1984 (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

is sold out as a physical book at Amazon:

1984 is sold out in hardback & paperback at Amazon…but Kindleers can read it for free

(one of my readers, alanchurch, pointed out that it can also be purchased as a Kindle e-book, besides reading it for free).

That got me thinking…

One of the biggest complaints when the Kindle was first released in late 2007 (so we are coming up on a decade of Kindling later this year) was that many of the books people wanted weren’t available as e-books, although they could get them in paper. At the time, many people were thinking of replacing the books they had in paper (or having them in both formats), or getting the latest releases.

When the USA Kindle store opened, there were fewer than 100,000 titles. It took quite a while before we could routinely get the latest releases, and well-known backlist (older) titles were scarce.

Now, ten years later, 1984 is an example of the opposite: a well-known backlist title only available as an e-book from Amazon. To be clear, 1984 isn’t out of print: it’s just out of stock. However, that’s something that’s to be expected. Paper doesn’t grow on– scratch that. 😉 Paper comes from a natural resource, and those are almost by definition limited.

It’s possible that some acceptable synthetic paper for books will be developed, but that hasn’t happened at a commercial level yet.

I think it’s likely that we will increasingly see shortages in physical books. Another reason is that published books can be gotten much more quickly and in many markets, more than they used to be. That puts more demand on the supply, and while I’m not sure, I’d be surprised if they are able to produce books (after they are written, edited, designed, and formatted) a whole lot faster and in greater quantities.

I did a bit of an analysis of this in 2009:

Ghosts of p-books past

As an update, I took a quick look at the Xanth series by Piers Anthony, which I had analyzed before.

Looking at the

Xanth series page (at AmazonSmile*)

they list 35 titles (that’s not how I would do the series, by the way).

Of those, 18 say they are available in Kindle (about 51%).

16 of the 35 had “get it by” dates for physical books, indicating that they are in stock, or at least can be ordered for quick delivery (about 46%).

The other p-books may be available to purchase used or from third-parties, of course, but I’m really looking at books you can order new directly from Amazon.

Two of the books with “get it by” dates are not available in Kindle format…about 6%.

Three of the books available in Kindle format do not have “get it by” printed books…so while it isn’t by much, more books are available in e-book and not in p-book than the other way around.

Another major change over time has been the number of books available only in e-b0ok form…books which have, in many cases, never been published in paper.

Those are commonly “indies”: independently published titles, often by the authors themselves. They may, by the way, be available in “print-on-demand” form, which may counter the trend which I am discussing to some extent.

Many of those books now sell quite well.

I’m not suggesting that more books are available in e-book than p-book right now.

There are now 5,029,411 titles in the USA Kindle store. There are now 21,907,515 paperbacks (not paperbooks…paperback format) listed as available new from Amazon.com.

Over time, though, I think it’s likely that we will see a higher percentage of cases where a popular book is unavailable in printed form and available in a Kindle format.

What do you think? If popular books are increasingly unavailable in printed format and available in e-book, will that speed e-book adoption? What impact will print-on-demand have? How impactful is it when someone reads their first book in e-book form…did that convert you to at least a “sometimes” e-book reader? Is synthetic paper a viable option? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


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