Kindle gift-wrapped as a Christmas gift

Amazon won’t release specific numbers about their Kindle sales — but they made a rare exception Thursday in their special year-end press release. “2011 is the Best Holiday Ever for Kindle,” Amazon announced, pointing to the fact that this year, they’d sold “millions of Kindle Fires and millions of Kindle e-readers.”

That’s still vague, but it reveals a big number if you parse it carefully. “Millions” has to mean at least two million, and Amazon’s apparently reporting two different numbers — one for the holiday sales of their color Kindle Fire tablets, and another one for holiday sales of their family of black-and-white e-ink Kindles. That means Amazon sold at least four million Kindles in December — a fact they confirm later in their press release. “Throughout December, customers purchased well over 1 million Kindle devices per week,” Amazon announced.

Unfortunately, there’s no telling what Amazon means by “well over one million”. And it’s fun to look at other clever tricks that Amazon’s used over the years to avoid giving out a specific number. For example, last year in December of 2010, Amazon made an announcement about sales for their newly-released Kindle 3. “[I]n the last 73 days, readers have purchased more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009,” the statement read — without providing an actual number!

“Amazon has a tradition of playing these stupid mind games with the press…” complained one columnist at PC World. “Amazon really took the cake for its silly numbers game last December [of 2009], when the company announced it had sold enough 8 gigabyte iPods during the holiday season to play 422 years of continuous music. The company also claimed it had sold enough Blu-ray disc players during the 2009 holiday sales blitz that if you lined up all the players side-by-side they would stretch for more than 27 miles. Huh?”

And this year, Amazon released a press release with some even stranger comparisons.

“Amazon’s third-party sellers sold enough cameras for every fan at the next 10 Super Bowls to snap their own shots of the winning touchdown.”

“Amazon’s third-party sellers sold enough toys in 2011 to give a toy to every resident of Chicago.”

“[Third-party sellers] sold as many Lalaloopsy Dolls as there are lights on the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York City.”

I love Amazon, and I love my Kindle — but it’s for that reason that I wish Amazon would tell us how many other people have actually bought a Kindle! “Reading Amazon’s press releases on Kindle’s greatness is like having a discussion with a kindergartner or a politician,” complained one analyst at The Motley Fool. “They all tell you what they think you want to hear in glowing superlatives, but lack the details you really need to know before drawing your own conclusion!”

But at least Amazon’s press release this morning also reported an interesting phenomenon that I’d also noticed earlier this month. “[T]he #1 and #4 best-selling Kindle books released in 2011 were both published independently,” they announced, and both ebooks came from authors using Amazon’s “Kindle Direct Publishing” program for self-publishing ebooks. Amazon’s CEO called it “a huge milestone for independent publishing,” congratulating the two authors, and delivering a message for anyone who got a Kindle for Christmas. “We are grateful to our customers worldwide for making this the best holiday ever for Kindle…”

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