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Just How Popular is Kindle?

written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 8/30/2011

Amazon has always kept tight lips about its sales figures, both for Kindle units and books sold. This makes it hard to know exactly how many people read Kindle books but with information from a few studies it is possible to get a good estimate.

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    kindle Demographic research has found that among e-book readers, the Amazon Kindle seems to appeal to a more mature, female crowd than the NOOK, iPad or any of the smaller share holders. Considering the reading tendencies of the older female crowd, it would seem to be a good bet that these readers will purchase more than one book a year, some more than one a month.

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    Industry Numbers

    According to an IDC study from March 2011, sales for all e-book readers worldwide rose to 12.8 million in 2010; 48% of them were Kindle models. That means that there were over 6.1 million Kindle units sold in 2010 alone. Add this to the estimated 2.5 million units sold between 2008 and 2009 and you have 8.6 million units before the beginning of 2011. At the time of the writing of this article we are over halfway through 2011. E-reader sales for 2011 were projected to be anywhere from 10 to 11 million units by three separate forecasting companies (Forrester Research, Gartner and Yankee Group), so it is safe to assume that at least one-third of these have already been sold. If the Kindle keeps up its stranglehold on the industry (and there is no indication that it won’t) then it is equally safe to project sales for the year to date of at least 1.7 million units. That would bring the total number of Kindle units sold to 10.3 million with upwards of 14 million by the end of the year.

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    Active Readers

    Now, no one is going to say that every Kindle unit ever sold is still in active use, but what would be a good estimate? As a conservative measure let’s say that three-quarters of all people who bought a first generation Kindle either stopped using it or upgraded to a newer version. This would take just over 750,000 units out of commission. Let’s then assume, being conservative, that about one-third of all the remaining units are collecting dust on a shelf for one reason or another. This would take another 3.1 million units out of the active market leaving approximately 6.4 active Kindle units in the marketplace. Now that we have established a base of 6.4 million units we need to look at the average number of purchases made on these machines.

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    Books Per Reader

    Amazon has been notorious for their ambiguity when it comes to sales figures. They often mention their, “millions of Kindle book sales" but don’t get into any specifics. They did say that they have several fiction authors who have sold more than 500,000 e-books including Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts. When we couple this will the fact that e-book sales have surpassed print book sales in the past year it is safe to say that the e-book is not a fad and will continue to be a driving force in the field.

    The question here is, “Who buys e-books, and for what reasons?" Taking into account the demographic studies that place most Kindle users in the 40 to 69 age range and over two-thirds as female and that the income bracket breakdown shows even distribution throughout all income levels, it seems that older females are at the core of readership on the Kindle. This would suggest that it is a group of people with adequate reading time (i.e. no kids in the house to take care of) and adequate income for recreational purchases. This would lead to a reasonable number of at least three books purchased per year. So we can attribute a number close to 19.2 million Kindle books sold this year.

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    Future of Kindle Readers

    With all indications pointing to growth in the e-reader market until at least 2014, and Kindle still being the e-reader of choice, it is not audacious to predict that there will be 20 to 30 million active Kindle book readers by 2014. An estimated three books per active unit that would put the kindle near the 90 million books a year mark. With numbers like that, how many people read kindle books will really depend on whether or not the titles offered meet their needs. Are there really 20 to 30 million readers for popular fiction? Furthermore, if there are that many, will they all choose to use the Kindle or will they be choosing a more complete unit like an Android tablet or iPad.

    Although many of the market forecasting groups don’t see the rise of tablet computers as direct competitors to the Kindle or other e-readers I have to whole-heartedly disagree. As the prices on tablets come down and the computer savvy generation of readers starts to purchase multifunctional devices it seems to me that the single purpose e-reader will go the way of the single function cell phone and the answering machine. People will look for ways to limit their electronic baggage and migrate toward a single multifunction unit as opposed to several single function units (this is especially true for those who are apt to purchase electronic readers – they are already opting to use a smaller format for their reading materials as a single unit can hold hundreds of volumes of text). Unfortunately for the e-reader, I think its days are numbered and that the forecasters have made a tremendous mistake in discounting the market competition of the tablet computer and its many e-reader programs.