240k Kindles with books on the wall, 240k Kindles with books

OK, so now TechCrunch is reporting that their secret source informs them that Amazon has sold  240k Kindles in less than a year.   That would be pretty good though it does not lead me to retract my May suggestion that the analysis by Citbank is bogus.

In that analyis Mark Mahaney suggested that the Kindle would sell only 189k units in 2008 but then blow the lid off with sales in 2010 of 2.2 million.    That key part of the analysis – huge sales after modest early adoption – still seems unlikely to me, though I might be swayed to Kindle mania if the sales trend over the past months was clearly up.    That would indicate enough consumer satisfaction to suggest they might become a gadget of choice with enough mainstream adoption to see the huge profitability projected by Citibank.   Hey, on the internet anything is possible.

Analysts Drinking Badly: Kindle Profit Nonsense

This incomprehensibly strange analysis of the potential for the Kindle strains the technological imagination.   The idea that this device doesn’t suck is foolish enough, but more importantly it can’t possibly have half the sales of the wildly popular iPOD, which debuted to considerably more positive press than the Kindle.

I think the problem is the notion that average folks might buy a Kindle.  They *might* buy a smartphone someday and probably will buy a computer, but they won’t be buying many Kindles.

Is there evidence that people really are buying Kindles?    Actually, very little.  Amazon has very conspicuously decided not to share sales stats, so only rumors have fueled speculation that Kindles are flying off Amazon’s warehouse shelves in numbers approaching the 55,000 used in the above mentioned crazy analysis.

Yes, it is possible that Amazon is making a killing with the Kindle and that they have chosen to remain very quiet about this, but it’s pretty darn unlikely.    I’d guess these things really are happening:   1) They are stockpiling in the hopes this will be a 2008 Christmas hit (it will not) and 2) they are promoting the heck out of this at Amazon.com trying to build a market (this will fail) and 3) they are engaging in somewhat deceptive practices to maintain the pretense these are selling lots of Kindles and will sell a lot of them in the futurel (this may not even be legal as SEC rules don’t look favorably on things that could be seen as mechanisms of stock price manipulation).

Mossberg on Amazon’s Kindle book reader – just fair.

Bloggers roundly panned the Kindle a few weeks ago during it’s launch, and then Amazon sold out of them almost immediately.  However many (including me) suspect they just didn’t build that many.   Given the negative initial reactions from so many, and the fact Amazon has very conspicuously failed to mention how many sold, I think the “Kindle sell out” was a marketing ploy rather than a sign of the Kindle’s popularity.    In fact I’d be surprised if they sold more than 50,000 or so – probably far short of the numbers needed to bring the Kindle project close to anything approaching profitability.

Adding insult to injured initial reputation, Walt Mossberg just wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the Kindle is just an OK device.   He was not too hard on it, but no endorsement either.     In contrast and over at CNET, Josh Taylor is warming up to the Kindle after a few weeks of use.    Of course he was on a beautiful tropical beach reading, so maybe that colored his perception to a Kindley hue ?     All I know is that at $399 + $9.99 per book and a buck per blog I won’t be buying one anytime soon.    

Kindle – market mini-analysis

OK, I just got it. The Kindle does have a market. Bezos is correct of course that the reason books persist in the digital world is their ergonomic appeal. With the Kindle he’s working to maintain that book advantage while adding the digital improvements modern technology can offer – that is a library of Alexandria at your fingertips.

Yet the obvious challenge here is what I’ve noted before – laptop users won’t switch to a device that offers ergonomic improvements but less functionality and more cost, and non-tech people won’t adopt tech approaches this quickly. So, who does that leave in the Kindle market? Jeff Bezos is one person, and I think he’ll buy one. I’d probably buy one if I had money to burn on a redundant but somewhat better device for my reading.

So the Kindle market will be heavy duty book readers who *also* like technology *and* have a fairly high threshold of disposable income. This is not a trivial number of people, though it’s probably only in the neighborhood of about 1-2% of the US population. Let’s assume that the number of people who are heavy readers and would like a Kindle and can afford a Kindle are 2% of the US population. That’s a potential market of 6 million people, which does not seem all that problematic. If they can penetrate 10% of this market and sell 600,000 devices along with the many books people will buy at 9.99 maybe it won’t lose money, and perhaps even could evolve into a device with broader appeal.

But I wouldn’t bet on this.

Kindle debut kindles more skepticism than interest

Amazon’s Kindle just does not make sense to a lot of folks blogging about it.  Including me.   Today the device was introduced by Jeff Bezos of Amazon via a presentation that appears to suggest he thinks this is the new evolution of reading.   Cuniform, then books, now the Kindle.    Actually, I sort of “get it” when you reasonably suggest that in a digital world the book is a cumbersome technology, containing only a single work in a relatively heavy casing.   The Kindle is thus a virtual library of Alexandria in 10 oz plastic box.   That’s pretty cool, right?    Right, if we did not have alternative technologies that offered even more.     As I see this the Kindle is a superior reading device to a laptop or iPhone because of better ergonomics.   However, given the cost and limitations (you can’t call with a Kindle), I agree with Forbes that this device may be obsolete before it even hits store shelves.  

Who will buy this expensive, highly specialized gadget and then pay fees to read things they could read for free on a computer?   Forbes has a more balanced story than Newsweek’s favorably hyped “Future of Reading” silliness that I think was more a product of some exclusive they got from Jeff Bezos than a reasonable analysis of what the Kindle offers readers.

But enough negativity.    I want to thank Jeff Bezos for spending so much money helping to design a product that will at the very least help to create the next generation of devices.   As a heavy user of heavy laptops I know we have a long way to go here.   We need a world where your phone/pda/mp3/browser also functions as a book reader.   I think that will come from the phone side of things rather that a separate “reader gadget” Kindle approach, but who knows?    Maybe this is the breakthrough device to get the luddites computing?     Is their interest kindled with this innovation?    Wait….nope….they don’t even know it exists. 

Kindle as “Future of Reading”? More like Present … of stupidity.

I don’t usually pan products here but the Kindle coming out from Amazon tomorrow is *really* a bad idea.   Not because it wouldn’t be neat to have a great reading device to replace books, but because of the demographics involved here.   Amazon is going to be lucky to sell enough Kindles to keep this project going through Christmas.     Part of the challenge for the Kindle is that it’s ugly.   Butt ugly based on the picture, though some are saying the Kindle picture does not do it justice.

Newsweek Reports with a title that is now in first place for journalistic hyperbole gone mad. 

But even if the Kindle was an AppleEsque stylish, techological beauty, who do they think will buy these things?

The early adopters of techology – folks like me who have a lot of computers, a laptop, and a fancy phone *already have* devices where we can read blogs and websites and books.   Oh yes, most of that reading is free on my laptop, where the Kindle is going to charge you – even for blogs if early reports are correct.  Sure it would be nice to have a portable reader for the coffee shop when I don’t have a real book to bring there.     But I *do* have a real book around somewhere that I do bring to the coffee shop if I’m not bringing my …. laptop … which gives me more than just reading capabilities.    Can I blog from the Kindle?    I’m not going to carry a Kindle AND my Laptop around with me.

OK, so what about those folks who are not attached to their technologies pretty much every waking hour?   The folks who may not even have a laptop to carry around.    They are going to budget $399 for a .. ummm …. ugly Kindle?  Huh?  The folks who don’t particularly like computers or gadgets and don’t think it’s fun to have a laptop at the coffee shop are going to jump right out and buy an ugly, new, unusual ….. uber gadget?     No.    What will the marketing say “Luddites of the world wake up and get out your wallets, because the Kindle is the high technology for YOU!”

As Matt Ingram notes, what in the world is Jeff Bezos smoking over there?.    The Kindle is yet another gadget designed by the folks who have everything for the folks who have everything, and therefore brings to the marketplace pretty much … nothing.  

OK, I’ve been mean and harsh because I think the Kindle is going to fail pretty dramatically.   I also feel bad because I understand Jeff Bezos is a cool, nice guy.    Yikes, I’ll never get a job selling Kindles door to door now, but the ugly Kindle truth is more important than that.   However, I would have to say that *some day* we may see lots of this type of device in libraries and coffee shops as a great way to bring people fresh and hugely diverse content without subscriptions to hundreds of magazines and papers and blogs and websites.   That is the neat part of this idea, but unfortunately for it to work the Kindle would need to kindle a lot of interest in the device as much as the idea, and this won’t do that.