Amazon Touts Kindle Sales, Reveals Little

Here’s a riddle for you: At what point will Amazon(AMZN) have to quit being so coy with its sales figures of Kindle editions and start offering the world real information? Today, newspapers, blogs, and magazines are afire with Amazon’s latest cryptic report.

Jeff Bezos says that cutting the price of the Kindle readers has accelerated sales. He calls the move to $189—provoked by other players—a “tipping point” that has tripled sales of the reading device. With three times as many Kindles selling, the number of Kindle editions is growing at a geometric rate to the increase in device sales.

The company also claims that more Kindle editions are sold than hardcover books. But instead of hard numbers, we get this summation from the New York Times:

In the quarter, Amazon said it sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books, including hardcovers for which there is no Kindle edition. That number includes the last four weeks, when sales increased to 180 electronic books for every 100 hardcover copies.

Yes. These are impressive numbers that do suggest we’re approaching a point where digital publishing can become a significant medium all its own. (Though a digital-first hit would be the best way to announce that.) But let’s not overlook a few facts about what we’re being told.

Are hardcover sales falling or remaining the same? If we look at the numbers from bookstores, we know they’re falling. We also know that Kindle owners tend to be heavy consumers of books. We also presume that Kindle owners are loyal Amazon customers. They’re buying a Kindle because they trust Amazon to deliver the same quality of service they’ve received over the years.

So every gain in Kindle sales most likely results in a lost hardcover sale. Amazon still benefits from the transition but it skews the real meaning of the advantage that Kindle editions are showing.

Juding by the way the story has ricocheted around the media world, Amazon has played its cards very well. But because it’s being so coy, we have to assume that the numbers are not as good as they might be when reported simply as, well, numbers.