Amazon CEO: “Millions” of Kindles Sold

Posted by: Douglas MacMillan on January 28, 2010

Amazon.com keeps secret the number of Kindles it sells, saying the devices generate too small a portion of overall revenues to warrant disclosure. But on Thursday, the company gave its first big hint at the e-book reader’s financial success.

In a press release detailing the e-commerce giant’s solid all-around performance in the fourth quarter of 2009, CEO Jeff Bezos says, “Millions of people now own Kindles.” So, assuming that at least two million people have bought the device, and that each paid at least $259 – the cost of the least-expensive Kindle – Amazon now has a business worth more than $500 million in sales. Not bad for a product that’s a little more than two years old.

Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako declines to specify whether the word “millions” was deliberately pluralized in the release. “We’re letting the quote stand for itself,” she says.

The size of the Kindle market has been the subject of much guesswork, since e-books are such a new and promising business. In 2008, Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney came up with a method of estimating sales based on a filing from Sprint, the former wireless carrier for all Kindles, and estimated 500,000 that year. Forrester Research recently estimated that 2.5 million Kindles have been sold, based on consumer surveys.

An increasing number of people are interested in gauging the success of the Kindle. Makers of rival e-book readers, many of them launching early this year, need to know the size of the opportunity to plan accordingly. Spring Design, which launches its $359 Alex e-reader in February, decided to start conservatively: it contracted with a Taiwanese manufacturer to produce 120,000 units in the first year.

Earlier this month, Amazon told software developers they would soon be able to write programs for the Kindle – some are holding back because they’re not sure the device gives them a big enough audience. Jeff Smith, CEO of mobile app maker Smule, is holding off on creating apps for the Kindle, in part because the investment required to write a program for the device wouldn’t be worth the potential payoff with just one to two million users.

Also watching closely is Apple. The computer maker made an obvious play for the e-reader market on Wednesday, when it launched its e-book-friendly tablet, the iPad. “Amazon’s done a great job of pioneering this functionality with the Kindle,” CEO Steve Jobs said during the launch of the iPad. “We’re going to stand on their shoulders and go a little further.”

But after seeing Apple’s expected “Kindle killer,” some analysts don’t think the iPad will do much to hurt sales of the Kindle. “For avid readers of books and periodicals, [the Kindle] is still the best option,” says Lazard Capital Market’s Colin Sebastian. Forrester analyst James McQuivey agrees, and is even considering raising his estimate on total sales of the Kindle and other single-purpose e-book readers in 2010 to 7 million, from his previous estimate of 6 million.

Update 1/29 10:10 AM ET: Michael Arrington at TechCrunch says the number of Kindles shipped is closer to 3 million, according to unnamed sources. And he points out that Amazon appears to have given away some Kindles for free -- which makes financial analysis of Bezos' claim that "millions of people now own Kindles" a little trickier. Still, consensus among people making educated guesses (the blog Kindle Review has an interesting mathematical breakdown) appears to put the number of Kindles sold between 2.5 million and 3 million.

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Reader Comments

Jay Arr

January 28, 2010 10:22 PM

One of the reasons we in the media business need to know how many Kindles are sold: if newspaper readers are moving in ANY significant way to ANY of the readers, we need to begin gauging how new media advertising will work on these devices.

If Jeff Bezos is unwilling to disclose, something is fishy about his numbers. I need MANY millions of Kindles, iPads, Nooks and Readers out there with people subscribing to news sources that also carry advertising. I need to know the potential number of readers and how soon NEWSreaders will replace newsPAPER.

The newspaper industry needs a million readers in markets like LA and NY alone. Whether part of that million is reading on paper and another on readers, makes no difference. Distribution, circulation, segmentation and audience. No other metric will save the news business from financial collapse.

Jeff: get your act together and contribute.

Jake Anthony

January 28, 2010 10:29 PM

Books suck. Just a lot of dribble. Kindles are worse liquid dribble read by introverted freaks. The ITampon will appeal to the same waste of human space.

Alexis

January 28, 2010 10:48 PM

Why did Amazons didn't mention the exact numbers of the Kindle's users? I doubt if million people already using Kindle. How's about you? ghjgjg... Since, for me, it's a little nonsense when you said, millions, or trillions without showing the facts that supported the claim.

h rosan

January 28, 2010 10:54 PM

Another product designed in the U.S and MADE IN CHINA.

richard f russell

January 28, 2010 11:01 PM

you have been underrated so often but apple and jobs will write your history not walmart.best of luck rfr

Fill

January 28, 2010 11:13 PM

Umm, given the choice of spending about $500 for a deluxe e-book reader.. I think I'd go with the iPad, thanks.

Fred Jones

January 28, 2010 11:16 PM

Alright folks, take off the blinders. Apple's release of the iPad (brilliant name, by the way) is the Kindle Killer.

Why would anyone pay $489.00 for a Kindle when they can pay $499.00 for the device that does so much more than just read books?

Apple nails it one more time. Sorry Kindle, you have had your 15 minutes of fame.

Kudos to Mr. Jobs & Co. for a wonderful product and for that great quote "We are going to stand on their shoulders and go a little further" It's the understatement of the decade!

Eman

January 28, 2010 11:48 PM

You have got to be kidding me. Why would anyone buy that ugly piece of a Kindle, that looks like technology from 1984 compared to the ipad?

joe teller

January 29, 2010 12:04 AM

Can't be true. I'm a salesman and Yesterday I saw the first person ever using a Kindle...it's bs to think Millions use this lame equipment...Howard Stern said it today it hurt his eyes

Beltway Greg

January 29, 2010 12:29 AM

Anyone out there want to bet that Apple won't sell 2.5 million IPads by the end of 2010? Bueller, Bueller.....
KIndle = Atari. Enjoy the next 60 days Jeff. The new sheriff is in town.

Bilko

January 29, 2010 12:37 AM

The iPad is an iFlop. It is no Kindle killer. The iPad weighs 50% more, is 30% thicker, and the iPad battery only last 10 hours compaired to the Kindle going 4 days with wireless and 10 days with wireless shut off and the kindle is easy to read in the sun.

LesleyO

January 29, 2010 12:41 AM

Obviously JakeA doesn't read, as he doesn't know the word is drivel, not dribble.

As for the iPad, reading anything for an extended period of time on a backlit screen is very hard on the eyes. It may be great for other uses, but not for reading. Any of the ereaders (whether the Kindle or another) is better than backlit glare.

Kindle Fan

January 29, 2010 12:57 AM

Why buy a Kindle instead of an IPad?

1) It does not have a backlight and is thus easier on my eyes.
2) I absolutely love eInk technology. It's comfortable to use all day if I choose.
3) The battery lasts longer than a dozen Energizer bunnies. It just keeps going, and going, and going.
4) I'm not convinced that an Ipad will be comfortable to use for several hours at a time.
5) I despise IPhones, so why would I want an IPad? I find the touch screens annoying. I don't even like or use the touch screen on one of my laptops.
6) I like a cell phone that has a full keyboard for texts. I also want a cell phone that is actually comfortable to hold.

I'll stick with my beat up LG cell phone & my beloved Kindle.

PXLated

January 29, 2010 01:01 AM

Never seen a Kindle in the wild - Bet I see a lot of iPads a month after they hit the shelves.
I read a book a week yet the Kindle has never excited me, the iPad does.

B. Johnson

January 29, 2010 01:03 AM

Are you guys serious?

I have a Kindle and I love it. You have clearly not used one or are not big readers.

The iPad is not a replacement for the Kindle because it has an active screen (which is fine for games), but it doesn't use e-ink.

e-readers have to use e-ink otherwise your eyes will get tired of reading. It's the whole point of an e-reader, otherwise I'd read all day on my Iphone.

The iPad seems a little "I want to do everything" but it doesn't do one thing well. I'm not convinced about the iPad, but I'm interested to see the reviews.

However, the iPad is NOT serious competition for a Kindle.

Malick

January 29, 2010 02:15 AM

Steve Jobs ( CEO, Apple ) has acknowledged as

"Amazon did a great job pioneering ebook readers, but Apple is going to stand on their shoulders!"

http://www.committedexpertise.com/mobile-expertise.html

iPad may be a killer!

/Malick

Mark T

January 29, 2010 04:34 AM

If you read a lot of books and travel a lot, the original kindle sounds perfect. Its compact and cheap. The Kindle DX is history, why do you want that when you can get the iPad which does more for the same price. Of course Amazon will probably lower the price of the Kindle DX before the iPad is available to everyone.

Kindle User

January 29, 2010 04:57 AM

Yes, people do use Kindles. I do. I know someone who just bought one, despite the iPad announcement. Another I know who was very anti-Kindle, got to use one and now is considering one. iPad serves a purpose for some. For just reading books, it's perfect. It doesn't do anything else really which is what I wanted in an e-reader. I wanted it to be just a book reader. And it wasn't $489 as someone said. It was $250. For everything else I have my laptop and phone, but for reading -- Kindle for me.

ab

January 29, 2010 05:12 AM

Umm... the ipad should be called the iStrain. It has an lcd screen wich is not good for long reading. It is fine for multimedia/web, but It will be like reading books on your laptop.

The kindle's eInk is awesome to read on. It feels like reading a real book, and not holding a piece of computer.

The iPad is 1.5lbs heavy, (24oz). Try holdind to read with that for more than few minutes.

Plus the Kindle 2 is 259, and comes with free wireless, you have to pony $30 per month for the ipad.

Just saying, device are for differnt markets. One is a perfect book eReader, the other one is a generic computer that can be used as a lousy book reader.

Scott

January 29, 2010 08:02 AM

I would certainly love to have an iPad. I am a big fan of Apple products.

Some may still prefer the Kindle due to the fact that downloading anything from anywhere is free.

I saw on Apple's site that the 3G service must be acquired separately. I live in Switzerland, and downloading a book at Swiss mobile rates would be quite expensive, whereas the Kindle is already available here and offers free downloads here.

L. J.

January 29, 2010 08:51 AM

The Kindle 2 is $259.00, not $489.00.

The reason so many people buy it, IMHO, is because e-ink is so easy on the eyes. You can read for hours and hours, even in bright sunlight.

"Howard Stern said today it hurt his eyes"?? Oh yes, and we all believe Howard Stern ...

jubei

January 29, 2010 10:31 AM

The Kindle hardware was just blown away by the iPad. The iPad OS and the ecosystem that powers it rides on the same faster than light travel spaceship that the iPhone/iPod Touch rides on. It ain't slowing down folks.

Synthmeister

January 29, 2010 06:05 PM

People read LCD screens all day long folks! Give me a break. And the iPad screen is not one of your cheapo Dell or Acer LCD screens. Most people won't have any more trouble reading an iPad than a Kindle.

The Kindle DX, with a 9.7 inch screen like the iPad is close to $500, and weighs 18 oz. And it only has 4gb of memory!

And yes, it is amazing that Amazon keeps talking about how fantastic Kindle sales have been but won't tell us what the figures are. The iPad will out sell the Kindle in six months, tops. There is going to to be a second app store gold rush and any publisher with any brains will be at the forefront of that gold rush.

Remember all the dopey things they said about the iPhone? And the iPod. The Kindle may be a better book reader but a lot more people will be reading books on an iPad and so that's where the publishers will go. Amazon can have it both ways if they optimize their Kindle app for the iPad.

Sandra Dubois

January 29, 2010 06:54 PM

The Kindle DX is $489.00. The Kindle DX is closest in size to the iPad. In the industry, the smaller Kindle is a bit of a joke.

From the Amazon Website:
"Kindle DX Wireless Reading Device (9.7" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation) Price: $489.00 & this item ships for FREE with Super Saver Shipping."

The iPad does not require a 3G subscription. The basic wireless version of the iPad connects to your home wireless network.

The backlit LCD screen incorporates a new technology called In-Plane Switching. In-Plane Switching (IPS) is an LCD technology initially developed to correct the poor viewing angles and color problems that LCDs have.

What this means for the die-hard e-ink dilettantes is an even better viewing experience while reading text.

It amazes me how many of the commentors just spout their own bias without recognizing that, yet again, Apple, Inc. has fundamentally changed the game one more time – and for the better.

Apple understands that it will take folks some time to catch-up with this new technology. They don't mind: you will eventually use an Apple device. Nothing else even comes close.

Mark Johnson

January 29, 2010 07:04 PM

Man, oh man! The iPad is a game breaker for companies like Nintendo and Microsoft with their x-box klunkers. The iPad as a gaming device is going to kill those two rivals with their over-priced hardware and lagging software offerings. Good riddance. A waste of money if I ever saw one.

Game programmers are going to have a great time programming for the iPad. It is relatively easy and it is such a nice size to design a game for. I heard some bozo from Microsoft knocking the iPad saying it was not an 'open' programming environment. An 'open' programming environment is what allows ALL versions of Micro$oft Window$ to be riddled with viruses and spyware.

Thank our lucky stars there is Apple, Inc. The only technology company truly concerned with the end-user experience.

Microsoft, HP, Dell, Nintendo, Sony, etc., etc. are concerned only with the unholy dollar and how to squeeze more and more out of us. From over-priced inkjet cartridges to flawed operating systems requiring the end-user to constantly monitor and update virus and spyware definitions, these companies make an insane amount of money on the ignorance of the end-user.

If your refrigerator gave you as much trouble as a Window$-based computer you would demand your money back and sue the manufacturer.

If you are using a Window$-based PC you are being taken for a ride. The sad part is you put up with it. For the rest of us, this is the reason why we worship Steve Jobs & Apple, Inc.

etechnology

January 30, 2010 02:25 AM

the more advertise you give for it the more it catches the interests of the people,the same thing has happen with amazon it gave more publicity the more products it sold

midwestmatt

January 31, 2010 06:05 PM

Amazon is a public company. They directly benefit from stating positive news about sales and revenue as it almost always adds to the stock price.

Their continued refusal to accurately state the number of Kindles sold is a red flag indicating that the Kindle is falling well below projections. This is akin to a Ponzi scheme where Amazon lets you wonder about the success of the Kindle so it might lead to greater interest and bump in stock price.

If it was good news, it would have been in a press release months ago. $259 for a book reader? Really? Who cares. Printed material is still radically cheaper to purchase and the convenience of the Kindle cannot make up for its huge purchase price.

Lee

January 31, 2010 06:33 PM

Amazon should focus more on having a platform where any ebook users can get their material rather than competing in technology. Kindle sucks if you compare it with iPad, but if they allow iPad users to be able to get amazon contents then they will both profit. They must realize that they are not technology company, surely they've addressed something that tech companies wasn't able to address and now they're listening since they realize the size of ebook fans.

Jose Chao

February 1, 2010 09:00 PM

Paradign shift...soon e-Readers will surpass books (paper/print/distribution)--go Green! Just like notebooks/smartbooks now outsell desktop PCs. Smart Phones ...digital convergence is finally here--critical mass, price points we can afford.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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