Amazon’s Kindle: Super Useful or Super Flop?

Instead of sitting down to read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, imagine unplugging a paperback-sized Kindle reader from your nightstand and scrolling down to your favorite columnist. No, you can’t flip the pages.

Since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ pet project hit the market, publishers and writers alike have been holding their breath to see how Kindle would morph the book industry. But more than a year later, the actual numbers of units sold remain shrouded in secrecy. The Kindle device is not ranked on like all other products but retains constant #1 status on its own virtual store.

In lieu of Amazon keeping its mouth shut, Citi analyst Mark Mahaney estimates that Kindle has sold about 190,000 units to date – less than the first year sales of the PalmPilot in 1997 and about half of the Apple iPod in 2001. Publisher Simon & Schuster Inc. saw a 40% growth in e-book sales in 2007, while other companies continue to scoff at the idea of enjoying Jane Austen on a machine, albeit a lightweight one that will play you with English ballroom tunes as you read.

Kindle’s success could bring electronic publications such as blogs, short stories, and newspapers into the bedroom – traditionally book territory – without a backwards look.

Do you think Kindle’s perpetually out of stock status and #1 rank are examples of slick reverse engineering or just another sign of the device’s future promise?

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