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Amazon Sells Millions of Kindles; Maybe There's Hope for E-Readers Yet

For years, Amazon (AMZN) has refused to give even a hint of how many Kindle e-readers it had actually sold. The dam finally burst. In a note on its Kindle discussion boards, the company officially admitted to millions of the devices having sold in 73 days â€" "... more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009."

Maybe it was the price drop to $130. Maybe there are just more readers out there than people have come to think. I've had my doubts about the viability of e-readers -- and, long term, I still do. But because of this and other evidence, there is clearly at least short-term business opportunity. And perhaps it's also a sign that companies should reconsider what they think they know about e-readers and tablets and what the devices should be.

Considering that the Apple (AAPL) iPad sold just under 1.1 million units a month in the company's last recorded quarter, millions in 73 days is pretty damned impressive. It would suggest at least double sales of the iPad.

That's also not the only data available. Last week, Barnes & Noble (BKS) chairman Len Riggio said that the company manufactures NOOKcolors -- its color e-reader -- at the rate of 18,000 a day, or 540,000 a month -- enough that in the same period that Amazon sold millions of Kindles, B&N probably moved 1.3 million. That doesn't mean the company sells that many a day, but Riggio seems to think that the company will be hard pressed to make enough to fill all orders. The level of success so far is still impressive, particularly as the device had neither Amazon's head start nor the iPad's hype.

(Amusingly, B&N can thank Amazon in part, because at least one seller on the retailer's site appears to be promoting the NOOKcolor:


Wonder how long that will remain up?)

Clearly the iPad has not cannibalized all e-reader sales. Price is certainly one consideration: $139 for a Kindle, or even $249 for a NOOKcolor, is far cheaper than $500 for the "magical" Apple tablet. But maybe this says more about some emerging devices than price alone. The NOOKcolor will show video and allow Web browsing. There's a morphing between the full-blown tablet and the e-reader -- something that Amazon has not yet indicated that it thinks to be a wise product direction. Then again, Steve Jobs himself was sure that 7-inch screens would fail.

The numbers begin to suggest that perhaps many of the assumptions about e-readers and tablets could simply be ... wrong. Winning features are those that give users the benefits they want, whether they initially realize it or not. It's going to take more experimentation to find the natural market segments and what types of product will find the greatest acceptance.

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