Amazon has been notoriously vague about sales of Kindle ebooks and of the Kindles themselves, but looking at the Amazon stats at The Millions, we can see that Kindle ebook sales have jumped by an order of magnitude since the launch of the new version.
When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the second iteration of the Kindle in February, he confused lots of folks when he said “More than 10% of the units we sell are Kindle book sales.” It was later clarified that he meant that, when looking at the 230,000 titles available for the Kindle, Kindle ebook sales account for 10% of the sales of those titles. Meanwhile, analysts have been trying all along to wrap their heads around what the Kindle means for the still nascent ebook market. To give an example, one analyst last year suggested that Kindle ebook sales could hit $2.5 billion by 2012.
Nonetheless, in the wake of all the hoopla surrounding the Kindle launch in February, it was hard to get a clear picture of whether we were seeing a lot of media hype from gadget-obsessed tech writers or a real watershed moment in how people will read. If our numbers (which are, admittedly, a very small sample size) are any indication, the launch of the Kindle in 2007 raised awareness of ebooks, but the launch of the Kindle 2, this past February, brought ebooks to the mass market.
In early 2008, with the first Kindle a few months old, we had anecdotal evidence from an ebook publisher saying that the Kindle wasn’t posting impressive sales. More recently, as the Kindle 2 hype was ramping up, a pair of established book bloggers noted that their Amazon stats didn’t show much interest at all in Kindle ebook sales. Michael Orthofer at the Complete Review wrote “only one out every 726 items purchased at Amazon after reaching it from our site in 2008 was a Kindle download.” Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading had similar findings: “While a few readers have purchased Kindle ebooks through my links, the vast majority have been sticking to the print editions.”
For The Millions, Kindle ebook sales through late February of this year were similarly underwhelming. To use Orthofer’s metric, Kindle ebooks sales from November 19, 2007, to February 21, 2009, the day before the Kindle 2 started shipping, amounted to one out every 99 items purchased at Amazon after reaching it from The Millions. So, a good deal better than what Orthofer was seeing but still not exactly an impressive number. (Incidentally, pre-Kindle ebook sales – presumably ebooks meant for devices that predate the Kindle – amounted to one out of every 272 from the start of The Millions to November 18, 2007)
But what’s interesting is what’s happened since the Kindle 2 started shipping on February 22. From that point until today, even though we still only link to the physical editions of books, Kindle ebooks have accounted for an incredible one out of every six items purchased at Amazon after reaching it from The Millions. Again, I have to stress that the sample size isn’t huge and that this is just one data point, but it certainly seems that with version 2, the Kindle has gone from a novelty to something much closer to the mainstream.