I’m always been wary of hype. I’m also wary of vague PR-speak which gets hyped by the media and played as fact.
For this reason I’ve always been reluctant to subscribe to the commonly held view that Amazon’s Kindle is romping ahead in every market, winning an unassailable lead over its rivals.
Let me be clear – I have nothing against Amazon or the Kindle.
When friends come to me and ask what eReader they should buy, my answer is generally a Kindle. They’re affordable, easy to use and the seller isn’t ever going to go bust, leaving you with a useless device.
But that willingness to recommend them doesn’t mean I have to buy into the hype.
Many years ago I used to contribute to an opinion column for a big UK tech mag. One month we were asked to comment on this new device Amazon had launched in the US. Apparently they’d sold out within hours.
The device was of course the Kindle and my scepticism and cynicism were no less well developed in those days.
To paraphrase, I pointed out that selling out of an unknown quantity of a product may not be that great. If you only have a handful of devices it’s easy to sell out without the product really being a huge success.
Amazon’s reluctance to provide actual unit sales for Kindles continues to fuel my wariness.
In recent days two pieces of news have fuelled my suspicion that the reporting and narrative of Kindle’s unassailable lead is open to question.
The first was a survey on behalf of a UK company which suggests “more than a fifth” of people given a Kindle for Christmas have yet to use it.
It could be that recipients are already part way through a book and will turn to their Kindles once that’s finished.
But could the Kindle’s affordability be making it an impulse purchase, bought for people who don’t really have an interest in eBooks? If so, some of those unused Kindles may never get switched on, they might get returned or be passed on to someone else.
A passed on Kindle is one future sale less, though it at least suggests some books might get sold.
But comments reported by paidContent.org suggest that some Kindle users do not, as I’ve long suspected, buy huge numbers of books.
According to the report, to look at the impact of its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library on book sales “Amazon compared two customer groups of Amazon Prime members who have owned an e-reading device for more than six months and have made at least one recent book purchase in the last 30 days.”
So on the basis of this report, even some customers who pay Amazon $79 a year for Prime membership only buy a book once a month.
Can that be right? Could it really be true that some Kindle users will only buy around a dozen books in an entire year? And if it is, how much of the Kindle user base is that true of?