Based on the ever-vague guidance provided by Amazon.com in the form of obscure comments from CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos and fluffy PR releases, such as today’s holiday sales update, I’m continuing to update my educated guesswork on the number of Kindles sold.
Two interesting factoids emerge from the marketing verbiage: First, Kindle books outsold paper books on Christmas Day, the first time that has ever happened; Second, the Kindle is the “most gifted item ever in our history,” according to Bezos. The first may not mean much, since Christmas Day isn’t necessarily a normal shopping day, though the volume of Kindle books sold suggests that on that day a lot of new Kindle users started stocking up on e-books. The second, an aggregate figure that appears to reflect all gifted items over all time, may be very significant or mean absolutely nothing at all, as the increase in online shopping and gifting continues to dwarf previous “record-setting” gift sales by the law of large(r) numbers.
Nevertheless, it is clear that this was the Kindle Christmas. During the third quarter of 2009, I estimated that Amazon sold 289,000 Kindles on sales growth of 60 percent year over year. We can assume, given the disappointing availability of most competitors, that Kindle grabbed a very large percentage of e-book reader sales this holiday season. However, it was also a poor Christmas overall, in terms of retails sales, even if Amazon did sell more stuff than ever before.
So, how many more Kindles sold between the end of the Q3 and Christmas Day? Extrapolating from previous quarters, and assuming this was a break-out sales season for Kindle, meaning that it more that doubled over the previous quarter, factoring in the sales of Kindle books versus paper books as Christmas gift cards were redeemed yesterday, I estimate Amazon sold 419,000 Kindles in the fourth quarter, or 145 percent of the sales in Q3.
That would make the total number of Kindles sold to date 1,491,000. Kindle now represents approximately 65 percent of the hardware reader market despite the appearance of Barnes & Noble’s Nook, which may reach 30,000 units in the quarter because of delays.
I still don’t think Amazon is in the hardware business for the long term. It’s all about building digital library lock-in.