Continuing the trend of examining Amazon’s confusing “growth” numbers, CNet executive editor David Carnoy (who has also received TeleRead coverage concerning his e-book Knife Music) has looked at Amazon’s announcement and is asking some interesting questions for which there are no really good answers.

Apart from nobody really knowing what “growth” means, Carnoy wonders about revenues now that Amazon is forced to conform to agency pricing for 5 out of the big 6 publishers. He wonders how many of those “growth” titles are self-published e-books, many of which cost well under $5. Is Amazon gaining or losing e-book market share overall? How are specific genres, such as romance, doing?

He also quotes some interesting CNet statistics:

I can’t give out exact numbers, but after the price drop to Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s e-readers, the number of people reading reviews of Nook e-readers (Nook 3G/WiFi, Nook WiFi-only) is three times the number of people reading reviews of Amazon Kindles e-readers (includes the Kindle and Kindle DX). Sony Readers are third in terms of interest from our readers. To be sure, our top products list skews these numbers (the Kindle and both Nooks all have 4-star reviews), so take them with a grain of salt. Undoubtedly, a lot of people simply buy the Kindle (or Nook) without ever reading a CNET review. After all, the Kindle–or Kindle apps–are promoted front and center on the Amazon home page virtually every day. With millions of people checking in each day, it’s no wonder the Kindle is the best selling product on Amazon.

As commenters to David Rothman’s article pointed out, Amazon gains no competitive benefit from revealing the sales figures, and indeed would stand to lose the benefit of the uncertainty surrounding the platform. Don’t expect to see exact numbers revealed any time soon.


  1. Most of David Carnoy’s questions are irrelevant. He may be interested in these questions, but they are not at the heart of what Amazon was saying. Amazon’s thrust in its press release was all about ebook sales; while there was a comment on triple sales growth of Kindle hardware, there was nothing misleading about the statement per se.

    Carnoy wants to see Amazon’s gross revenue of ebooks vs gross revenue from hard covers. Well, ok: and so would Barnes & Noble like to see that. I don’t understand what purpose that would serve: it is proprietary corporate information.

    Carnoy wants to know how many ebooks were self-published at Amazon. Well, ok: but what purpose does that serve? If the public is buying them and enjoying them, that’s a good thing, right? Amazon underscore that its stats were based on paid titles, not free ones. And if the implication is Amazon can’t sell mainstream stuff, Amazon also pointed out it single handedly sold over 75% of all James Patterson ebooks.

    Carnoy notes Romance novels sell well on the Kindle. Well, ok. Here’s some news: romance novels sell well everywhere. You’ll find they are popular at Kobo, Fictionwise, Sony, B&N, Borders, Waterstones, WH Smiths … and your local lending library. Readers like ’em, readers read ’em … Amazon probably sells lots of them.

    And then the iPad is dredged up again noting Apple’s iBooks is the #1 free app, with Kindle and B&N fighting for free app #2. Out of the blue comes the claim, with zero facts to back it up, that the iBooks and B&N ebook sales “are very competitive on the iPad”. Well, perhaps they are: I don’t have the facts either. But given the fully integrated platform Amazon offers with syncing, shopping, social commentary that is platform agnostic, it’s not a leap to believe that the Kindle app downloaders are actually using, and purchasing, and reading content in a volume well ahead of other options.

    Carnoy didn’t know when to stop because he certainly said it well here: “Amazon is a master of selling paper books online and still offers the best user experience. It has transitioned that experience over to the e-book world and Kindle Store”. And that’s exactly what the ebook sales stats Amazon reported back up.

  2. Mr Inglis asks what purpose it would serve Amazon to break down their figures. It would serve the company a great deal, if those figures helped to perpetuate the impression that Amazon is the unstoppable juggernaut of the ebook world, leaving all its competitors in the dust.

    By subsidizing sales of Kindle editions (until the agency model prohibited the practice), Amazon was clear in its intentions to monopolize the ebook market. Sony and Barnes & Noble are also aping the iTunes/iPod model and aiming at supremacy — though I haven’t seen any indications or even rumors that Sony or Barnes & Noble were willing to sell ebooks for less than wholesale in order to gain that supremacy; that tactic belongs to Amazon alone, so far as I can tell.

    We ebook fans would all love to see more data on sales from Amazon and all the other companies. Amazon and the others aren’t complying; they aren’t legally required to comply, so we can’t really complain about it. But half-truths and misleading phrasing, such as filled the Amazon press release under consideration here, don’t do anybody any good. At best they leave us with a false impression of the company’s success; at worst they leave us with the queasy feeling that Amazon is a bit of a trickster and is trying to pull the wool over our eyes — so we shouldn’t trust them.

    Probably the confusion over ‘tripled sales’ versus ‘tripled growth of sales’ went right past most people. Some news outlets reported their own (false) impression that it meant ‘tripled sales’ and some (it seems the minority) accurately passed along the ‘tripled growth’ to readers, many of whom undoubtedly read it wrong as so many of us who read the original press release did, and concluded that ‘tripled sales’ is what it said.

    For those of us here at Teleread, being tricked, seeing others tricked, and then carefully untangling the half-truth from the deceptively-worded press release, the thing did Amazon more harm than good.

    C’mon, Amazon, now really: why don’t you just be honest with us all? Why do you have to hide your real sales figures and resort to misleading PR and dumping tactics?


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