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How Do You Wrap Digital Holiday Shopping?

Stocks in this article: AMZN BKS AAPL NFLX WMT

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Holiday shoppers have it pretty easy online, but how to you wrap an MP3, video file, e-book or e-gift card?

You don't, but dispensing with the paper, ribbons and other packaging isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Holiday shoppers can't put paper and bows on downloads and e-cards such as those bought on Cyber Monday, but few recipients care.

Online holiday spending from Nov. 1 through Dec. 2 hit $18.7 million, according to ComScore (SCOR). That's a 15% increase that includes $1.3 billion brought in on Cyber Monday alone.

While a whole lot of that haul still includes physical product that lures customers with the promise of free shipping -- as 63% of transactions did last week, up from 52% during the same week in 2010 -- customers looking for books, music and movies are increasingly keeping physical product out of the equation. Though e-books make up only 14% of fiction and nonfiction books sold, they've been outselling their pulp counterparts on Kindle-peddling Amazon (AMZN) this year and have outsold them on that site during the holidays each year since 2009.  

It's been a similar story for the Nook e-reader and its parent Barnes & Noble (BKS), where e-book sales now outnumber those of their analog contemporaries by a 3-to-1 margin. Overall, according to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales were up 160% during the first half of the year. Their $390 million in sales still trailed the $473 million brought in by adult paperbacks, but eclipsed the $386 million spent on adult hardcovers and the $359 million spent on young-adult hardcover and softcover titles combined.

Meanwhile, music sales that Nielsen (NLSN) SoundScan says climbed 8.5% for the first half of 2011 and constituted the music industry's best sales since 2004 are overwhelmingly of the digital variety. Of the $821 million recorded music brought in during those six months, $711 million came from digital singles and album purchases on Apple's (AAPL) iTunes, Amazon and other sites. Digital movies are largely rooted in on-demand services offered by Netflix (NFLX), Amazon, Comcast (CMCSA), Time Warner (TWX) and others, but digital movie sales on Apple's iTunes, Wal-Mart's Vudu service and elsewhere still accounted for $118 million during the first half of the year. With ComScore pointing out that two-thirds of U.S. smartphone users shop on their devices, how a person gets a gift or purchase has become slightly less important than how quickly they can use it.  

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