How Many Kindles Are There?

Cartoon stock market chart showing Sales are going up

A new financial analysis just reached a startling conclusion: That within five years, there will be 53.87 million Kindles (and other digital readers) in the world. “That’s a lot of e-reader devices,” says the Tech Journal South, a North Carolina magazine which bills itself as “the technology business publication for the Southeast region…” They argue that it’s not just books, but also newspapers and magazines that will soon be re-defining themselves for the coming digital age (plus the aftermath of a bad economy).

Of course, that begs another question that’s even more immediate: how many Kindles are there now? Amazon’s never released the number, but Business Week got an estimate from a research firm called ThinkEquity. They concluded that just last year Amazon may have sold “more than 8 million” Kindles — saying the Kindle probably accounted for 5% of all of Amazon’s 2010 revenue. And in 2009, one technology blog cited “a source close to Amazon” who reported that by December of 2009, Amazon had sold a total of 3 million Kindles.

If those two numbers are correct, then Amazon would have sold more than 11 million Kindles by January of 2011. (Another analyst reached a similar conclusion — estimating that last year Amazon sold 7.1 million Kindles.) But he also predicted that the number of Kindles sold would double by the end of 2011! It was at Barclays — the world’s 10th-largest banking and finance company — where analyst Doug Anmuth made the prediction: that Amazon would sell 12.3 million new Kindles this year. If he’s right, that would soon bring the total number of Kindles up to 23.3 million by the end of this December!

And then I stumbled across what’s probably the most interesting statistic of all. E-book reader sales are tripling every year — according to the chief marketing officer at a company that manufactures the “e-ink” displays (used by digital readers like the Kindle). Speaking at a conference in Silicon Valley, Sriram Peruvemba (of E Ink Holdings) said “This technology has already emerged and it is in the mass market.” He’s got some real statistics to back it up — Last year his company generated sales of $650 million, and this year they’re predicting their revenues will surpass $1 billion. And the market research firm which held the conference even estimated that this year we’d see sales of close to 27 million Kindles and Nooks and other devices with e-ink screens.

I think it’s time to accept the fact that we’re seeing a revolution. (About 12% of the population already has a digital reader, according to an article in Venture Beat, vs. 8% with a tablet computer and 83% with a cellphone.) They also offered at least one tangible technical reasons for the popularity of the e-ink format. A device with an LCD screen expends 26% of its power on its screen — versus just 5% for the display on an e-book reader.

But my favorite part was their predictions for a future where e-ink screens aren’t used just for digital readers. Sriram Peruvemba says they could also be used for digital watches, cellphones, and even perfume bottles. One of the most interesting ideas is an electronic music stand that could display different pages of sheet music. And of course, it’s only a matter of time before even our public schools start thinking about the possibility of digital textbooks.

The Kindle is here to stay – and as time goes on, it’s only going to get even more popular…

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