Are Fewer People Buying Kindles?

Thursday is a big day. Amazon is going to announce their first earnings report for 2012 — and hopefully, some statistics about the popularity of their new Kindles. Obviously a lot of people received a Kindle Fire tablet for Christmas (or a new $79 Kindle, or a Kindle Touch) — but those sales were all counted as part of 2011. So it’s this report which could reveal not only whether Amazon’s selling a lot more digital movies and music downloads now — but also, whether even more people are still buying Kindles!

But at least one analyst thinks they’re not. “[W]e cut our 2012 Kindle e-reader unit sales forecasts to 12.3 million from 24.0 million due to weak demand,” Chad Bartley announced last week. He’s a senior research analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, an investment bank that focuses exclusively on technology. And he’s not just concerned about the Kindle Fire tablets, but even Amazon’s sales prospects for their black-and-white e-ink readers.

The firm conducted its quarterly “consumer technology” survey — and they noticed a big drop in the number of people who wanted a Kindle. “[O]nly 5% of respondents intend to purchase a Kindle e-reader in the next 12 months,” he explained in a note released last week, “which is well below the 10% reported in our last survey.” Of course, the problem could be that the Kindle is already very popular — and maybe there’s just fewer people left who don’t own a Kindle. “We attribute weakening demand to the large install base of Kindle e-readers…” writes Bartley, estimating that over 28 million people now have a Kindle! Digital readers have also “matured,” with lots of new competition.

But the Kindle is also facing competition from apps, which let people read ebooks without ever buying a Kindle. (Bartley’s note specifically cites a recent study by Pew Internet Research, which found that just 41% of e-book readers are actually using a Kindle-like device, “while 42% read them on a computer, 29% on a cell phone and 23% on a tablet!”) In an odd coindence, I found this article on a web site called Business Insider — just a few days after they ran another article proclaiming “The Death of the Printed Book”

That article cited a remarkable statistic: that 21% of Americans now say they’ve read an e-book within the last year — a big jump from the number two months earlier, when only 17% of Americans said they’d read an e-book. And when given a list of typical reading situations, a majority still said they preferred ebooks over printed books in nearly every one! (For example, reading in bed, or reading books while traveling…) So while the e-book is clearly gaining in popularity over the printed book — people may not be reading those e-books on a Kindle! Still, not everyone’s convinced that Amazon’s in trouble.

After all, Amazon sells books as well as Kindles — and in the comments on the article, there’s a least a few people who won’t blindly trust a business insider. “I think I’ll take what the ‘experts’ say with a grain of salt,” posted a user named Dan Delgado. “If I recall correctly (and I think I do), ‘Experts’ said Amazon and Kindle were ‘in trouble’ when Apple launched the iPad and colluded with book publishers. Apple (they said) would take over the ebook business.

“A couple years later, Apple has 10% of the ebook market and is being sued by the Justice Department for price fixing!”

Is the Kindle More Popular Than We Think?

Blonde woman in new $79 Kindle ad buys one for herself

There’s a strange statistic making the rounds. British newspapers are reporting the results of study about all the people who received a new Kindle this Christmas. It claims 22% of them aren’t even using their new Kindle, if you believe the coverage in the Telegraph or the Metro newspapers. But another site filed an entirely different report on the same study, suggesting the Kindle may actually have been much more popular as a gift.

PC Advisor notes that the study first focussed only on people who were dissatisfied with something they’d received as a gift. Only then did the researchers ask the follow-up question: okay, well then, which gift was it which you weren’t satisfied with? Even then, 78% of them identified a different gift, but the Kindle was named by 22% of the people who were dissatisfied with a gift. And more than half of those people even admitted that they hadn’t even used their Kindles yet. They had yet to download a single ebook. (No wonder they were dissatisfied!)

In fact, this year the Kindle was one of the most popular Christmas gifts in England. Even The Telegraph notes a separate survey which discovered that this year, a whopping one in 40 British adults received a Kindle for Christmas. So obviously, among all those new Kindle owners will be a handful of recipients who are still techno-phobic, or who simply haven’t gotten around to using their Kindles yet. It’ll seem like there’s a lot of more of them when you calculate only what their percentage would be of those grumpy people who didn’t like their Christmas presents.

In fact, 9% of that group reported that the gift they weren’t using was…an iPad! And another 14% said they weren’t using the mp3 players they’d received for Christmas. Interestingly, an even higher percentage of this group said it was because they hadn’t gotten around to downloading anything yet to listen to — 67% of them. “It is surprising to see how many people have not used gifts they received almost one month ago,” noted the Chairman of the web site which released the study. But he added, “I think we are all guilty of putting gifts to one side now and again.”

And no matter how cynical the headlines are, the chairman actually reached a very positive conclusion. “It is likely that these gifts will be used eventually, perhaps when the owners get a chance to download books or music…” The site which conducted the study is — a British web site offering shopping coupons for discounts. It wasn’t a research firm filled with professional market analysts, or even an academic study from a university. (I wonder if they simply asked random people visiting their web site to make their selection from a small list of choices.)

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information online about how they conducted their study, which makes me feel a little guilty about even reporting these numbers. (At this point I’m writing an article about an article about a study — and it’s not even clear how that study was conducted!) But there’s one fact I’m absolutely sure of, and I think a lot of Kindle owners would almost certainly agree.

If we a new Kindle as a Christmas gift — we’d definitely be using it.

Amazing New Statistics about the Kindle

What just happened? The number of people who own an e-reader nearly doubled — in less than four weeks! That’s according to a new study from the well-respected analysts at Pew Research Center. And they’re concluding that now one in five Americans own a Kindle (or another digital reader)!

According to their just-released survey results, between mid-December and early January, the number of people who own a Kindle (or a Nook, or another digital reading device) jumped from 10% to 19%. It’s especially amazing because there’d been almost no new purchasers during the previous six months, according to their research. “These findings are striking because they come after a period from mid-2011 into the autumn in which there was not much change in the ownership of tablets and e-book readers…as the holiday gift-giving season approached, the marketplace for both devices dramatically shifted.”

I love these studies, because they provide hard data about who owns Kindles, with a chart showing a demographic breakdown. For example, 30% of college graduates now own a Kindle, a Nook, or some
other digital reader. (And 31% of people earning more than $75,000 a year!) They’re the two fastest-growing groups in the study, since just last month, only 16% of college graduates owned a Kindle (and 21% of people earning more than $75,000 a year.) If this study is correct, 14% of America’s college graduates got a digital reader within the last month — and 10% of the people earning over $75,000 a year!

The statistics are nearly identical when you ask who owns a tablet computer like the iPad or Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablets: the percentage also jumped from 10% to 19%. In fact, 31% of college graduates now own a tablet computer, according to the study — and 36% of people with an income over $75,000 a year. (That’s 14% more — for both demographics — than it was just in mid-December!) And if you ask about both devices, asking if people own at least one digital reader or one tablet computer, the numbers are even higher. In December it was 18%, but by January, it had risen to 29%!

Women are now also more likely to own a Kindle (or another digital reader) than men. Back in November of 2010, it was an even split — 6% of the women in America owned a digital reader, and so did 6% of the men. By this December, it had risen to 11% of the women vs. 9% of the men — and after Christmas, the number of women who owned a reader had nearly doubled, to 21%, while the number of men rose only to 16%.

Click here to see the study’s chart showing “the big jump in gadget ownership over the holidays.” They estimate that their survey has a margin of error of just 2%, since they phoned nearly 3,000 people to compile each set of results. The research is supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “to look at how these devices are affecting people’s relationship with their local libraries, the services those libraries offer, and the general role of libraries in communities.”

And in a few weeks, the researchers will reveal more interesting data from their survey participants — about “reading habits and their interactions with their libraries related to e-books and other digital content!”

Amazon Announces Big Kindle Sales Figures

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…”

Amazon Announces Strange Sales Milestones

Steve Jobs biography is a rising sun over Mount Everest

If you bought a copy of the book Steve Jobs, you’re part of a very strange milestone. It was Amazon’s #1 best-selling book this holiday season, and today Amazon announced their customers “purchased enough copies…to create a stack taller than Mt. Everest!”

It’s an annual Amazon tradition — the fun (but nearly-meaningless) statistics about their massive holiday sales. For example, “The cumulative weight of the Bowflex 552 Adjustable Dumbbells purchased by Amazon customers would outweigh more than 70 adult elephants.” And “If you unfolded and stacked each pair of jeans purchased by Amazon customers this holiday, the height would be 2,500 times taller than the Statue of Liberty.”

But they’ve also included some real information in their annual press release. For example, Amazon’s announced their best-selling books for this year’s holiday season.

    “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson
    “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever”
    “11/22/63” by Stephen King

And they’re also releasing a separate set of figures for the holiday best-sellers in Kindle ebooks!

    “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
    Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins
    The Litigators” by John Grisham

It’s also interesting to hear stories about Amazon’s luckiest customer, who placed an order at 2:35 on Saturday afternoon — the day before Christmas — and actually received their order on the same day, just 3 hours and 40 minutes later! They’d ordered a rechargeable pack of batteries, and they shipped it using Amazon’s “Local Express Delivery” service. It offers one-day shipping for $10 in ten different cities — or just $3.99 if you’re just purchasing a gift card. (And it’s just $3.99 to deliver any order if you’re a member of Amazon’s Prime shipping program.) Not every item is always available for one-day shipping — check its “product description” page on to make sure. But here’s a list of the 10 cities where Amazon’s now offering the one-day shipping option — grouped by the cut-off time for placing your orders (using their local time).

    1 p.m.

    11:00 a.m.
    Las Vegas:

    Washington, D.C.

    10 a.m.
    New York City (and parts of New Jersey)

    9:30 a.m.

    7:00 a.m.

Interestingly, the cut-off time for Seattle is supposed to be 1:00 p.m. But apparently the luckiest customer of the year placed their order more than 90 minutes later — and still received their batteries on the same day!

And if you look carefully, you can even extract some real numbers from the rest of Amazon’s descriptive statistics. For example, “Amazon customers purchased enough sweaters to outfit each of Santa’s reindeer during Christmas Eve deliveries for the next 14,000 years.” It’s like one of those “story problems” that high school students dread in their math class. (Eight reindeer — plus one more, if you count Rudolph — would need nine sweaters for Christmas Eve, so if Amazon outfitted them for the next 14,000 years, that’d be nine times 14,000 — or 126,000 sweaters….) That doesn’t seem like a lot of sweaters, until you remember that they were all purchased online at Though there’s still no way of knowing which sweaters, or how much they cost.

It’s as though Amazon is sending reporters on a fun scavenger hunt for their actual sales figures. They’re reporting that “Amazon customers purchased enough HeatMax HotHands Handwarmers to give a pair to each resident of Iceland.” According to Wikipedia, the population of Iceland is about 320,000, so that’s also the number of handwarmers that were sold — 320,000. But they’re distributed in boxes of 10, boxes of 40, and also individually, so there’s still no way to calculate how many boxes were actually sold. And it could be as low as 8,000 boxes, representing sales of just $160,000…

Here’s two more “math puzzles” from Amazon — some interesting sales milestones from the great holiday shopping season of 2011.

“Amazon customers purchased enough copies of Just Dance 3 to give 15 copies to each person who participated in setting the world record for simultaneous dancing.”

“Amazon customers purchased enough Rory’s Story Cubes to give a cube to each person watching the New Year’s Eve ball drop live at Times Square.”

But there’s one question that even Amazon can’t answer. They announced’d their customers “purchased enough copies of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs book to create a stack taller than Mt. Everest.”

So how many ebook versions would they have to sell to reach the top of Mt. Everest?

How Many Americans Now Own a Kindle?

Kindle package manufactured on Amazon assembly line

Nearly 1 out of every 8 adults in America now owns a Kindle or another digital reading device! And what’s even more amazing — that’s twice as many as there were just six months ago, in November of 2010!

That’s the conclusion of a new study from the Pew Research Center — which is significant, because it’s a research firm that I’ve actually heard of. (They’re a Washington D.C. think tank, and they’re credited as sponsors on some public radio programs.) Looking at the population of U.S. adults, “This is the first time since the Pew Internet Project began measuring e-reader use in April 2009 that ownership of this device has reached double digits,” the group’s associate director announced in a statement. And what’s even more interesting is according to this study, Americans are buying digital readers much faster than they’re buying tablet-sized computers like the iPad!

“Tablet computers …have not seen the same level of growth in recent months,” writes Kristen Purcell in today’s announcement. While 12% of U.S. adults have a digital reader, just 8% of them own a tablet, according to the study — and it suggests the popularity of tablets might have reached a plateau. In January, 7% of U.S. adults already owned a tablet computer, so very little has changed over the last four months, and even back in November, 5% of U.S. adults had already bought a tablet. Over the next five months, tablet ownership increased from 5% to only to 8% — while digital readers jumped from 6% to 12%. “Prior to that, tablet ownership had been climbing relatively quickly,” the study notes — but apparently now only the Kindle (and other digital readers) are attracting lots of customers in the U.S.

There’s a little overlap between the two groups. 3% of America’s adults own both a tablet and a digital reader, according to the study. (And of the remainder, there’s 5% who own just a tablet, while there’s 9% who own just a digital reader.) Of course, 83% of American adults don’t own either device — which means there’s still potential for a lot of new Kindle (and tablet) owners in the years ahead. And another interesting statistic points in the same direction.

“[T]his survey marks the first time that laptop computers are as popular as desktop computers among U.S. adults…” writes Purcell, “further confirming the overall trend toward adoption of mobile devices.” Last November there were more Americans who owned a desktop computer (61%) than who owned a laptop (53%) — but now, an equal number of Americans reported owning each kind of device — around 57%. Plus, among younger Americans (under the age of 30), “laptops have already overtaken desktops in popularity…” the study reports, noting that laptops now also “appear poised to do the same among older adults.”

So who’s buying a Kindle or another digital reader? In the last six months, there’s been a huge jump in the number of American college graduates — from 8% to 22%. And reader ownership has doubled in the last six months for adults living in a household earning more than $75,000 a year, to 24% — which is almost double the ownership rates for households earning between $30,000 and $75,000 a year (now at 13%). But the study also found some other groups of people who were also very likely to own a reader.

  • Adults younger than age 65 (37%)
  • Parents of children under the age of eighteen (16%)
  • Hispanic adults (15%)

I’m stumped on how to explain those demographic trends. Some suggest the Kindle and other readers have been adopted by more mainstream middle-aged consumers over the last six months. (“[O]wnership among adults ages 18-49 grew more rapidly than any other age group,” the study reports — from 11% to 24%.) But the study’s other data seems strangely specific — for example, that “in the past six months ownership of these devices among parents [now 16%] has grown more rapidly than it has among non-parents [now 10%].” And the study’s data is even more striking for Hispanic owners of Kindles and other digital reading devices. “E-reader ownership grew at a faster pace among Hispanic adults over that time period [from 5% to 15%] than it did among white adults [6% to 11%] or African-American adults [from 5% to 8%].”

There’s one other interesting statistic. In November, men and women were equally likely to own a digital reader, but by May, there were slightly more men. 11% of the women in America now own a reader (according to the study), compared to 12% of the men. But it’s even more interesting that just six months ago, only 6% of men and women owned a digital reader.

I want to believe this all means something — that e-books are now achieving a special “critical mass”. We’re past the “early adopter” stage, when digital readers seemed like exotic but expensive luxury items that only a geek would buy. Now a significant share of Americans owns a digital reader, and the size of that share has doubled in just six months. Soon nearly everyone will own a Kindle (or a Nook) — and we’ll all be reading ebooks instead of printed books.

There’s always been changes happening in the world, but it’s usually hidden somewhere beyond our own day-to-day life. So it’s very exciting when you can see the signs of a big change…while it’s still happening!

Is the Kindle Changing Our Lives?

Globe of the Earth
There’s three Kindle stories today, and together they paint a picture of how the Kindle is changing our world. First, 8% of Americans now own a Kindle or some other digital reading device, according to a newly-released poll. It discovered that 92% of Americans don’t own a digital reader, so “any real changes may take a while to detect, but some small ones are noticeable now.” Harris Interactive had surveyed 2,775 adults last month, and concluded that people who own digital readers end up reading more books.

I had to laugh, because yesterday I’d reported on a 2008 comment by Steve Jobs. The Apple CEO told an audience that “40% of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year… people don’t read any more.” But according to the new Harris poll, now it’s only 25% of Americans who read one book or less each year. (Plus, there’s apparently another 40% of Americans who every year read at least 11 books.) And the percentages are even higher for people who own a digital reader: each year a full 62% of them read at least 11 books, while 26% of them are reading more than 20 books!

“People seem to be reading more if they have an eReader,” the researchers concluded, “which is something the publishing industry, which has been in decline over recent years, is sure to celebrate.” But the same day, there was an interesting counterpoint coming from one of America’s top technology colleges. Last week I reported figures challenging whether the ebook was really outselling the printed book. Today those figures drew a response from the Technology Review blog at MIT.

“The death of the book has been greatly exaggerated…” wrote Christopher Mims. “I’m calling the peak of inflated expectations now.” He’d heard predictions that the printed book would be dead within five years, but “it’s just as likely that as the ranks of the early adopters get saturated, adoption of ebooks will slow… Get ready for the next phase of the hype cycle – the trough of disillusionment. The signs of a hype bubble are all around us.”

Fortunately, the pollsters also asked whether people planned on buying a digital reader over the next six months. 80% of them said they were “not likely” to, and 59% even described themselves emphatically as “not at all likely.” Another eight percent said they weren’t sure, leaving 12% who said they were likely. But even among that 12%, for every one person who said they were “very likely,” there were three who were only “somewhat likely.”

But there’s a wild third perspective coming from a bus driver in Oregon. The 40-year-old bus driver was caught reading his Kindle while driving the bus. It was 7:15 in the morning on a fateful drive towards downtown Portland, and his reckless driving was captured by another handheld piece of technology — a cellphone movie. In one amazing frame, he’s actually steering the bus with just one elbow on its steering wheel, holding his chin in his hand while he points his head down towards the Kindle resting on the driver-sider dashboard. “At one point he also appears to ‘turn’ a page,” noted one Oregon TV report.

I know it’s only one anecdote, but I think it says more than any statistics ever could about how much the Kindle is creeping into our world…