Spare a thought for the humble hardback this Christmas. It seems the traditional giftwrapped tome is being trumped by downloads, after Amazon customers bought more e-books than printed books for the first time on Christmas Day.

As people rushed to fill their freshly unwrapped e-readers — one of the top-selling gadgets this festive season — the online retailer said sales at its electronic book store quickly overtook orders for physical books. Its own e-reader, the Kindle, is now the most popular gift in Amazon’s history.

Amazon’s shares rose sharply on Monday after it updated investors on a strong Christmas performance. On its peak day, December 14, the retailer said customers ordered more than 9.5 m items worldwide, the equivalent of a record-breaking 110 items a second.

The Seattle-based company’s top sellers in its home market included Apple’s iPod touch, Scrabble Slam Cards, Nintendo’s Wii Fit Plus with balance board, the latest Harry Potter DVD, Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue and Susan Boyle’s album, I Dreamed a Dream.

Although Amazon has repeatedly trumpeted “record-breaking” Kindle sales, it has refused to say exactly how many have been sold since the 2007 launch.

Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst with Collins Stewart in New York who has tracked the Kindle’s performance, believes that across both models — the paperback-sized Kindle 2 and larger DX — Amazon may be on target to have sold a little over 500,000 units by the end of the year. Nor does it divulge data about the Kindle-compatible books it sells from a Kindle Store that now includes more than 390,000 titles. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

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