A VERY Strong Quarter From Amazon; Kindle Sales Still a Mystery

October 23rd, 2009

My colleague Mark Anderson calls the company “Amazin'” and I often think he’s calling it straight. The company yesterday announced its third-quarter results, and financially, they’re stupendous:

  • Net sales increased 28% to $5.45 billion in the third quarter, compared with $4.26 billion in third quarter 2008.
  • Net income increased 68% to $199 million in the third quarter compared with net income of $118 million in third quarter 2008.

But, most remarkably, according to Bezos:

“Kindle has become the #1 bestselling item by both unit sales and dollars – not just in our electronics store but across all product categories on Amazon.com….”

Here we have another one of Bezos’s media-focused statements offered once again without a hint of what those unit sales or dollars are. So Amazon issues yet another hyperbolic claim so ambiguous in meaning that it’s designed presumably just to feed the Kindle hype machine. (Of course many analysts eat the hype without even adding cream or sugar.)

Is Bezos claiming that on a day-to-day basis, the Kindle has become the #1 bestselling item by both unit sales and dollars? Or is this for some other period of time? Could he mean that it is the all-time #1 Amazon bestselling item by both unit sales and dollars?

I just can’t believe in any of these scenarios. Think of the Harry Potter and the Dan Brown books. Surely their unit sales have been much higher than Kindle sales overall? With just the Dan Brown books having sold perhaps 5 million+ copies on Amazon, the “all-time” scenario quickly falls apart. And for a book that sold a million copies on its first day of release, Brown’s latest, “The Lost Symbol”, selling at $16.47 in hardcover on Amazon, surely is outpacing the $259 Kindle in daily unit sales.

I’m not the only one perplexed by this. See for example:

How Long Will Amazon’s Silence On Kindle Sales Last?

I have nothing but the greatest respect for Bezos’ stupendous business achievements with Amazon.com. But I will continue to cast a wary eye on the Kindle and eBooks generally while Bezos continues to insult all of his customers and followers by playing so coyly with the real Kindle story. I think that this kind of non-disclosure should be forbidden by the SEC (meaning, very specifically, that if a publicly-traded firm is going to point to a particular product as one of the cornerstones of its success, it MUST release the relevant associated financial data).

Bezos continues to insult us all with the tale of the Kindle. Perhaps it will read better as an eBook.

An update on  October 29, 2009: A Wall Street Journal posting reveals part of the reason of the success from Amazon’s amazing quarter.