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E-books are in, say sales

Amazon.com, the world's largest online book retailer, caused a stir when it announced its Kindle device for reading e-books.  Many were drawn to the book's sleek look and ability to conveniently store hundreds of electronic titles and navigate through them without physically turning a page.  However, others were critical of the development, saying nothing could replace the act of reading a printed book.

However, the device caught fire, obviously appealing to some and has been a hot seller ever since.  Amazon.com just announced that the Kindle was its top selling gadget for 2008, beating out the likes of the Nintendo DS, PSP, and others.  The device topped every list it was eligible for, except the most positive comments category, which was topped by the Samsung 46-inch LCD high-definition TV.

One thing that helped the Kindle burn up the sales charts was an endorsement by Oprah earlier this year.  Oprah anointed the Kindle her "favorite new gadget" on her afternoon TV show.  She argued that for those who keep up with the latest titles, the $359 price tag quickly vanishes as new titles are available for $10 or less, saving the user lots of money in the long run.

An Oprah endorsement is known as a product gold-strike, as shown by the Oprah book club.  The celebrity has catapulted many unknown authors onto The New York Times best-seller list.

Indeed the response seemed almost instant, with sales jumping.  By the end of the year the stock of Kindles had been exhausted and the company announced that customers would have to wait until February to purchase the popular gadgets.

The Kindle is not without competition, though.  Sony makes a rival e-book reader.  Both devices are virtually identical in size and memory.  Both devices also use E Ink's display technology, which displays crisp text that's readable even in sunlight.

However, the Kindle has a critical advantage over Sony's reader.  Sony requires users to download books and then transfer them to the device via a wired connection.  The Kindle, on the other hand, has a wireless EVDO cellular connection, which it uses to connect to Amazon.com and directly purchase and download titles for no additional charge.  Amazon contracts Sprint for its cellular connections.

The lists for sales were compiled by units sold, not by the revenue gained.  Outside the gadgets world, Nintendo's Wii unsurprisingly took the top video game console spot, while Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 was the top selling software.

Amazon did not disclose its revenue for the holiday shopping season.  However, it is publicly stating that the holidays, despite the bad economic climate, were its strongest season yet.  It says 6.3 million items were ordered worldwide on its peak sales day, December 15.





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