image I should have picked up on this yesterday. A CNN story says “more than a quarter million” Kindles have been sold. Whose numbers are most helpful? CNN or Forrester Research, which estimates 400,000?

Now, here’s the fun. Unlike Amazon, Sony is willing to give out sales figures for its Readers—in this case 300,000 globally.

So I’ll next ask a rude question. Let’s say Amazon has moved just 299,999 Kindles or whatever. That would be more than a quarter million. But it would still be fewer than Sony’s official 300,000. I’m just frustrated that CNN doesn’t give a source for the “more than” number. Which analyst or whatever?

Psst! My gut instinct is that Amazon has moved more hardware than Sony. But you never know. Come on, Jeff Bezos. Follow Sony’s example and level with us.

Real winner: The iPhone?

Of course, the real winner going by sheer numbers might be neither the Kindle nor the Sony Reader but rather the iPhone.

Remember, the Stanza reading app for the iPhone has drawn more than 500,000 downloads. Add in the stats for eReader and other iPhone-available programs, and it’s clear that there the e-reading world encompasses a lot more than dedicated readers of the Kindle variety. Check out some Wikipeida-published stats for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Amazon’s ePub challenge: Did it bungle its workflow?

Meanwhile, speaking of the Kindle, another pesky question arises—one that could impact content availability in ePub, and thus hardware sales.

Could technical bungling be why Amazon is so far behind rivals on the ePub issue? Might it have been so eager to crank out the max number of titles for the Kindle that it didn’t think beyond getting them into the DRM-tweaked Mobi format that the K machine uses? Just what kind of workflow are Jeff B. and friends using? Mobi is a primitive format designed originally for use on small handhelds, without ePub’s richness, especially for STM apps. Not to mention other issues. How well will Mobi handle shared annotations, reliable interbook linking and other wrinkles that the ePub world hopefully can enjoy in the future?

Might Amazon end up having to reconvert many or even most of the 200,000 titles now it Kindle format? Or more likely will it settle for less than ideal conversion from, say, Mobi, for just about everything?

Yes, I know: the current Mobi Dekstop can do conversion from ePub files. But that’s no substitute for native reading capability, which eReader software will gain in the near future.

If Amazon won’t do ePub…

Luckily, the large publishers can farm out conversion work and come up with workflows that can do justice to ePub. One format expert suggests, for example, that the best core format could be  “DTBook-based ePub or DocBook and similar specialized DTDs” (links added).

Ignore the jargon if you wish. Just keep in mind that a grainy video isn’t going look any better when viewed via HDTV. Same idea here.

Of course, the issue isn’t just the capacities of the format, but also the ability to reposition it for many devices. Hello, Amazon? Given the rise of the iPhone, you’d better start caring. Why, you may even have stopped Mobi itself from haivng an app for the phone, even with the proprietary format in use.

For small publishers, the good news is that Amazon rivals such as Fictionwise will be switching to ePub, and both eReader and Stanza will be able to read it—in fact Stanza does now. eReader is smart enough to know that ePub is the format of the future. I suspect it will even offer nonDRMed ePub books.

Watch out, Amazon (and some publishers). You may think your customers won’t demand DRM-free ownable books in standard formats, but the eventual outcome could be rather different from what you expect.

Related: Can we hope for an Amazon and ePub union?, from Mike Cook at ePub Books.

(Thanks to Sam Hendrix and Hadrien Gardeur for pointers to the CNN story.)


  1. It should be noted, of course, that nobody knows how many of those downloaded iPhone reader apps were actually used. I have quite a few free apps (and even a couple of paid ones) that I downloaded but have never used on my iPod Touch.

    But that aside, there’s certainly no denying that Fictionwise is really in a good position to benefit from the iPhone/iPod platform’s popularity. For publishers wanting to sell encrypted books to iPhone owners, and iPhone owners wanting to buy books from encrypting publishers, they’re the only game in town.

    And the longer Amazon waits to let Mobi release their iPhone client so that people can buy encrypted books from other e-tailers like, the better off Fictionwise will be. Hm, maybe I should stop hoping they’ll get off their butts and release it after all.

  2. IT would not be that surprising if amazon indead moves less actual items then what people asume based on it’s position in the media landscape.

    It’s the same with apple, i mean reading tech news and blogs and ignoring sales stats you might be forget that dell still sells more laptops them apple.

    starbucks is the exact same thing btw, it’s more that sometimes the press reports more from the subculture it shares with part of the blogosphere then the actual whole of society.

    In the ebook world you need to remember that the total for commercial ebooks would ranks at maybe 5% of Project gutenbergs downloads, or maybe about half the revenue of a local newspaper’s website.

  3. I thought the reason why Amazon went with the DRM-enabed format because this was the only way to get the publishers on board?

    It would be nice if we didn’t have these “format” wars in the eBook industry. The concept is too new to chase people away with proprietary, hardware-specific formats. I want to be able to read any ebook on my Kindle, not just those converted to an Amazon format.

  4. I won’t claim any sort of unbiased sample because I definitely hang with non-random people (more writers than most people hang with), but I have seen a vastly larger number of Kindles in my circle of acquaintance than Sony.

    Interesting speculation on Kindle formatting. Something to consider–many, perhaps most, of the books available for Kindle were submitted through the Mobipocket system. So, Amazon gets them in Mobipocket format. Unless they went back to the publishers, they’d have to convert from Mobi.

    Rob Preece

  5. The number of titles purchased is far more interesting. Just as Google needs eyes on the web, Amazon needs eyes on its paid content. Kindle, Sony, iphone, blah…the specifics are meaningless. Amazon will sell CONTENT wherever it can.

  6. Has Sony sold more eInk readers than Amazon?


    Wasn’t Sony’s ereader on the market two years before the Kindle?

    Is comparing three years of Sony hardware sales to one year of Kindle hardware sales an apt comparison?

    Care to wager who has sold more individual ebooks?

    I doubt that “technical bungling” has anything to do with amazon/epub. What format does amazon receive from the publisher the titles they ultimately convert to Kindle format? Care to wager that at least some of those titles are delivered to amazon in epub format?

  7. Thanks, HeavyG. Replies:

    1. Yes, the length of time on the market counts–that’s an excellent point–but I suspect that early Reader sales were not that big in the stats. What’s more, Sony has achieved these numbers without wireless. Just wait until it gets wireless and makes wireless arrangements with a bunch of indie stores.

    2. We were taking about hardware, not books, though even in that respect Sony could be competitive in the future through its wireless partners. I don’t know the rev split if any. But if nothing else, that should make the Sony hardware more attractive compared to the Kindle than it would be otherwise.

    3. As for ePub, I doubt that many of the 200,000 titles are in that format yet. That’ll change. But if that happens, and if the Kindle can’t easily read ePub, DRMed or otherwise, Amazon will suffer. If ePub becomes a true MP3 equivalent, rivals can just pick up the ePub, while Amazon will have to mess with conversions. What do you think? Long term, Amazon’s insane obstinacy about native ePub for the Kindle could hurt its bottom line (caveat: I’ll assume that the current Kindle hardware can do justice to ePub with slight tweaks; maybe not). Significantly, eReader will sprout ePub capabilities in the near future.


  8. It wouldn’t surprise me if Sony has sold more readers than Amazon. Sony readers can be found in stores across the country but people who want a Kindle still have to go through I imagine impulse buying happens more at retail outlets than online and people who have heard about e-ink technology via all the press the Kindle received might be more inclined to purchase a Sony Reader when they see one at the store rather than go through the hassle of logging on and waiting weeks to receive their product. From what I’ve been reading on sites like this one and it seems like people equate press with higher sales. However, I think availability plays a bigger role and Amazon has not matched Sony in that arena.

  9. Personally I have a Sony eReader. I did quite a bit of research between the Kindle and Sony offerings, and there were just a few things that eventually swung me away from the Kindle.

    The first was the fact that Whispernet has limited availability in Alaska (where I live). From what I’ve seen in all of the “which is better” discussions around the web, the wireless connectivity of the Kindle is one of major features that people seem to point to when declaring the Kindle champ. Seeing as it won’t work well — or at all — where I live, that made it a non-feature for me.

    Another issue (though I admit this will sound superficial) was the color of the device. I just can’t use a white gadget. I never even owned an Ipod until the original black Nano arrived. I work outside all day and though I end up washing my hands too many times to count, 2 times out of 5 when I reach for a “gadget” my hands are probably a little grimy. I just couldn’t imagine that pristine Kindle getting filthy. Sure I know I can get countless covers and screen protectors and ‘armor’, having a device be dark right out of the box is admittedly a selling point for me.

    The final point in Sony’s favor was the simple fact that I already had quite a few PDF book files. Dozens more just in the past 6 months or so, from the TOR email list. Knowing I could instantly slap those onto the eReader right out of the box really was the last thing I needed to know before ordering. I have to say I’ve been a very happy owner since — though I am jealous of the Kindle Book Store I have to admit.

  10. I own both a Sony PRS 505 and a 700. I did investigate the kindle early on but as i live outside the US where it is difficult to buy and would make the use of whispernet redundant, Sony was the clear winner for me.

    The main pro of the Kindle is the Amazon bookstore and this is why, imo, they are resisting epub. It would essentially allow other Reader users to take advantage of their store without having to buy the kindle. They seem to be acting out of fear at the moment. I would like to think Amazon would get the message that increasing the ebook market would have a net benefit to them and they would certainly sell a lot more books but companies rarely take this line when they can follow a proprietary option. The only reason i think Sony supports epub is because they see the Kindle as a real challenge.

    BTW, lots of bookshops outside the US are starting to display and demo Sony ereaders.. this includes places like Dubai as well as UK