Earlier this fall, pundits were saying e-book readers were going to be a popular holiday gift this fall. With the holidays now behind us it's time to see if the pundits had it right.
It certainly was a good season for the Amazon Kindle. Amazon issued a press release saying that the "Kindle has become the most gifted item in Amazon’s history" while carefully avoiding any hard numbers. The Kindle, 8 GB Apple iPod touch and the Garmin nuvi GPS system were the top three best-sellers in electronics during the period of November 15 - December 19.
Amazon also wanted us to know that they sold more Kindle books than physical books on Christmas Day, which doesn't seem all that remarkable to me. Of course everyone who got a Kindle bought a book for it on Day 1 (which for many people happened to be Christmas Day). Most revelers probably didn't push their gifts and family aside to run to a PC to order a physical book that wouldn't ship that day anyway. So I'll give a polite golf clap to Amazon for selling more Kindle editions on December 25th.
Both of the other two big contenders, the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader Daily Edition, were supply constrained, so we'll never know how many units they might have sold had they been available. I still think Sony is being overly optimistic thinking people will pay $400 for the Daily Edition when they could get a Kindle or Nook for $259. It's also worth noting that Sony has two other versions of their Reader on sale, but we haven't heard much about sales numbers of those.
Of course going back to the number of Kindle editions sold, at least Amazon's system held up to the onslaught. Barnes & Noble can't say the same thing. Have a look at this forum thread to get the story from the frustrated userbase. Basically B&N's servers were swamped and many people were having a lot of problems downloading books. To throw salt in the wound, customer support was apparently closed for the holiday. The first big holiday with a major new system and you close customer support? Barnes & Noble should have paid some overtime and had the phones manned. It's often an economic reality that a service like this can't afford to put enough servers in place to carry the short term peak demand of a product launch (which this effectively was) but at least having a soothing voice on the other end of the phone can reassure new owners that this is just a temporary situation and their new gift is working properly.
Sounds like the Nook took a credibility hit while the Kindle flew high. Despite its prime time television advertisements, Sony hasn't appeared to make much of a splash in the e-reader space this year.