Why Amazon Won't Release Kindle Sales Figures

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The news is always upbeat in Kindle Land. Amazon routinely issues glowing press releases trumpeting its e-reader's impressive sales and growing popularity, but it never reveals the actual number of Kindle devices it has sold.

Thursday's news flash is a prime example. To paraphrase, Amazon reported that its third-generation Kindle (the latest model that's receiving favorable reviews) is the company's fastest-selling e-reader ever. In fact, more 3rd-gen Kindles were ordered in the first four weeks of availability than in the same timeframe following previous Kindle launches. Furthermore, the Kindle has maintained its two-year run as Amazon.com's bestselling product.

Quite impressive. But how many Kindles have you sold, Amazon? Strangely enough, the company won't say. It never has.

Why is that? Perplexed, I asked IDC mobile device analyst Susan Kevorkian, who tracks the e-reader market, to weigh in on the matter.

"There are a variety of reasons," Kevorkian replied via email. "Short term, Amazon's policy means that Kindle won't get directly, and quite possibly unfavorably, compared to iPad in terms of shipments as the iPad grows in popularity and cannibalizes the e-reader market."

Kevorkian's hypothesis makes a lot of sense. After all, iPad sales figures have been gaudily spectacular to date: Apple sold 3.27 million tablets during the first full quarter of iPad sales. Assuming the Kindle's numbers are significantly lower, the disparity between the Kindle and iPad might give the impression that Amazon's device is losing the e-reader battle vs. Apple.

In reality, that's not the case at all. Amazon's Kindle strategy is to distribute digital content (e.g., e-books) to a wide range of devices from multiple vendors and on multiple platforms, including Apple's iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, Android smartphones and (very soon) tablets, and Mac and Windows PCs.

"This strategy has taken shape over the past several months with the launch of Kindle apps for a variety of devices that extend the Kindle experience well beyond the dedicated Kindle device," Kevorkian writes.

And although Amazon has declined to release sales figures for Kindle hardware, it's been "somewhat more forthcoming about Kindle content," she adds.

For instance, the company last month announced that the late Stieg Larsson, author of the "Millennium Trilogy" novels including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, became the first writer to sell one million Kindle e-books.

Perhaps Kindle hardware sales stats aren't all that relevant, particularly since Amazon's e-book strategy appears to be working. Still, it'd be nice to see some numbers alongside those "fastest-selling ever" claims.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci ) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com .

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At a Glance
  • The third-generation Kindle is the first to truly make e-reading an appealing proposition.


    • Reasonable price
    • Speedy page turns
    • Light weight
    • Higher contrast screen


    • Lacks the shop-anywhere convenience of 3G model
    • PDF handling remains weak
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