Amazon hints at ebook inflection point, continues to confuse on Kindle sales

Amazon announced some very impressive numbers on Kindle book sales and some predictably vague details on Kindle sales. It’s hard not to get the feeling that it really, really doesn’t want to give out any details on Kindle hardware sales and at the same time wants to put an end to the ‘iPad has killed the Kindle’ nonsense spread by people who don’t really read.

Not sure why Amazon wouldn’t wait till its Earnings Release on Thursday to talk about Kindle and Kindle Book sales figures.

Kindle Sales Growth Rate is Accelerating, Kindle selling more every month

It’s like a chart of Kindle growth rates with nothing on the Y axis. We know sales are improving but nothing beyond that.

Amazon still coy and vague about Kindle Sales figures

While everyone is oohing and aahing, and to be fair there is a lot worth marvelling at in today’s Amazon Kindle news release, it’s hard not to notice that Amazon continues to be vague about exactly how well the Kindle has been selling. For example, we now have a very vague idea that Kindle sales are increasing -

Kindle sales increased each month in the second quarter, the same period that Apple began selling the iPad, 

… the growth rate tripled after Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle from $259 to $189 in late June …

Some news sites are already tripping over the ‘growth rate tripled’ part and writing that Kindle sales tripled. Growth rate tripled could mean absolutely anything – Perhaps it went from 100% to 300%, perhaps it went from 10% to 30%.

Here are Mr. Bezos’ exact words -

Today, Amazon.com announced that Kindle device unit sales accelerated each month in the second quarter–both on a sequential month-over-month basis and on a year-over-year basis.

“We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle–the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189,” said Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon.com.

That acceleration each month is easily explained by the release of the Kindle 2.5 upgrade, a price cut from $259 to $189 on the Kindle 2, the release of a new $379 Kindle DX, and the availability of numerous refurbished Kindles at really cheap prices. The acceleration in sales serves only to prove that the iPad hasn’t killed the Kindle (and probably not killed other eReaders either).

Beyond that it only says that Kindle sales have increased – The ‘tripled in growth rate’ part is rather vague and it could mean absolutely anything.

The fact that sales are more than they were last year isn’t even worth mentioning – last year the eReader market was just beginning to explode, the Kindle was at $299, the Kindle DX wasn’t out until June, and there were no $109 and $139 refurbished Kindles.

Amazon’s simple message about the Kindle

Basically, Amazon is sending a rather simple message -

The Kindle is alive and kicking though we won’t tell you how hard.

We did better than last year – which should be a given.

We did better each month – which should also be a given.

The growth rate tripled – This way we can indicate things are going well without revealing any figures at all.

The iPad didn’t kill us. The Nook price-cut didn’t slow us down.

In typical Amazon Kindle press release style they’re doing this without mentioning exactly how many Kindles have been sold.

Kindle Book Sales knock it out of the ballpark

Amazon are much more transparent when it comes to Kindle book sales and prove beyond a doubt that the ebook inflection point is well behind us and might have passed us as far back as December 2009.

  1. Kindle books are outselling hardcovers on Amazon.com. This excludes free Kindle book downloads (the remaining numbers exclude free Kindle book downloads too).
  2. For the last 3 months there have been 143 Kindle books sold for every 100 hardcover books sold at Amazon.com. For the last month the ratio has been 180 to 100. 
  3. Kindle book sales growth has beaten the industry wide numbers – which includes beating the industry-wide 207% growth in ebook sales for the first 5 months of 2010. Amazon sold over triple the number of ebooks they sold in the first 6 months of last year in the first half of this year.
  4. Out of James Patterson’s 1.14 million ebook sales 867,881 were Kindle books. That’s 76.13%.
  5. 4 more authors have sold more than half a million Kindle books – Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer, and Nora Roberts.

If you’re a Publisher you have got to be wondering what you’ll be doing in a few years. If this growth rate for ebooks persists Publishers are going to start dying out by early next year.

Amazon even take a jab at the Agency Model by pointing out that 510,000 of the 630,000 books in the Kindle Store are at $9.99 or less.

Amazon’s simple message about the Agency Model

Again, we have Amazon sending a direct message -

We now sell more Kindle books than hardcovers and the writing is on the wall – eBooks are going to rule and within ebooks Kindle Store is going to rule.

The Agency Model isn’t killing ebook sales and it’s not taking over – We’re still selling lots of books below $9.99 (80.95% of the Kindle Store to be precise).

It isn’t affecting our dominance either. We’re growing faster than the rest of the industry.

In stark contrast to the vagueness with Kindle Sales figures we see a lot of clear data with Kindle book sales.

Reactions to Kindle book sales figures 

New York Times points out that paperbacks probably still sell better than Kindle books

It’s a good thing they do – lest we start thinking the war is already won. Here’s what NY Times has to say about exploding Kindle book sales -

The Kindle sales figure does not include free Kindle books,

Amazon does not disclose how paperback sales compare with e-book sales, but paperback sales still probably outnumber e-books.

… even with the popularity of the iPad, which Apple has marketed as a leisure device for reading and which has its own e-book store, sales of the Kindle are growing, Amazon said.

It highlights something – Amazon’s vagueness is going to cause a lot of confusion. It is a bit strange to give Kindle Book vs Hardcover figures and leave out Kindle Book vs Physical Book figures.

Wired strike out twice

In some cases Amazon’s vagueness really trips up reporters. We have Wired writing that ebooks outsell paper books on Amazon.com -

E-books have hit the mainstream, and for the first time are consistently outselling their pulp-and-ink brethren, according to Amazon.com.

Amazon hit a symbolic milestone last holiday season, when for one day its sales of e-books exceeded the number of dead-tree books it had sold.

How do you confuse hardcovers for ‘all paper books’?

Wired achieve the rare distinction of not only confusing hardcovers for ‘all physical books’ but also confusing ‘growth rate tripled’ for ‘Kindle Sales tripled’ -

Amazon also stated that sales of its Kindle e-book reader have tripled since it cut the price from $260 to $190 …

The little cherry on top is their analysis that Kindle owners recoup the cost of the Kindle after 11 ebook sales.

Bloomberg address Kindle vs iPad

Bloomberg brings up the whole Kindle vs iPad angle and talks to an analyst who thinks there’s room for both -

Its release of growth figures may be aimed at quelling concern that the iPad has crimped Kindle demand, said Dmitriy Molchanov, an analyst at Yankee Group.

“There’s a real perception that the iPad has completely squashed the e-reader space and that’s really not the case,” said Molchanov, who’s based in Boston.

“Amazon is doing really well and both companies can profit at the same time.

That’s very true. There’s little doubt both companies will profit. The question is – Which of these two is going to get a top two spot and really make money from eBooks? Could it be both?

Jacket Copy wonders whether Amazon can continue to dominate ebooks

It’s good to have a few people who aren’t dumbstruck by the Kindle book sales figures. Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy (LA Times) has some Kindle book sales questions -

what isn’t being said is that these aren’t necessarily new books; most of these authors have an impressive backlist.

How much of Amazon.com’s Kindle sales are an echo of this —  readers purchasing much-loved favorites in a new format –

Once, the word ebook was all but equivalent with a book sold for the Kindle. Amazon.com may be a huge part of the ebook picture, but now it has to share the stage with other players.

The last point is particularly relevant. There will be a lot of companies eager to steal a share of the 80% of the ebook market the Kindle Store has. We have to wonder how Amazon are going to hold on to such a large chunk.

Galleycat says Amazon just rocked the Publishing World

You bet it did.

Galleycat points out the good and the puzzling about Amazon’s Kindle Books announcement -

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos rocked the publishing world with a Kindle sales quote today.

Nevertheless, the company still has not released straightforward figures about total Kindle sales or total eBooks sold.

In a way you have to love the vagueness when it comes to the effect it has on Publishers. They probably have a very good idea of hardcover and ebook sales from Amazon – Yet, the way Amazon puts it they have no option but to either reveal figures (which hurts their whole ‘power and control and secrecy’ obsession) or have people think ebooks are completely destroying hardcovers.

Amazon has well and truly rocked the Publishing World. If it wasn’t painfully obvious to them yet that this time they can’t sabotage eBooks and eReaders it should be now. Can’t wait till next year’s July Kindle news release announcing that ebooks have surpassed combined paper book sales at Amazon.

5 Responses

  1. Good, cool-headed post. Thanks.

    I agree that Amazon has rocked the publishing world and also that we need to read these figures carefully. Something not mentioned is that hardcovers from Amazon.com will only (mostly) cover the US while Kindle sales cover almost 200 countries. That does not detract from the core fact that Kindle growth has not been killed by the iPAD and others but it should be noted when trying to figure out what this release is telling us.

    It will be interesting to read Mike Shatzkin’s take on the figures from a former traditional publisher’s perspective when he gets round to posting on it.

    Interesting times.

  2. so if we assume say 20% of Kindle owners bought a Patterson ebook (and they each bought just one) you have ~4.4M Kindles in circulation. Other assumptions will give you other ballpark SWAGs at Kindle volumes.

    • That’s a good assumption. We’d have to factor in people using Kindle Apps – However, somewhere between 3 and 4.4 million Kindles would be a reasonable guess.

  3. I agree. That is an astute observation, eal

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