Amazon: What are you hiding?

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- Amazon shipped its Kindle e-Book reader way back in November of last year. Since then, the company has tried to paint a picture of runaway success by suggesting that the incredible popularity of the device prevents the company from keeping up with orders. Is the Amazon Kindle really a secret failure?

I wrote a blog entry back in December called "Kindle: gadget of mystery." In that piece, I listed unknowable details about the Kindle -- information that Amazon is concealing from everybody.

Now, it's March, 2008, and Amazon is still stubbornly hiding the most basic facts about the Kindle while trying at the same time to paint a picture of success based entirely on the very facts it conceals. For example: How many Kindles has Amazon sold?

Since the day the Kindle shipped, people who wanted to buy a one have been put on a waiting list -- often for more than a month and a half. In a recent earnings call, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said:

"Kindle is, in terms of demand, is outpacing our expectations, which is certainly something that we are very grateful for. It's also on the manufacturing side causing us to scramble. We're working very hard to increase the number of units that we can build and supply per week, so that we can get back-our goal is to get into a situation as quickly as we can where when you order a Kindle, we ship it immediately."

Why should we believe him?

Why is Bezos so aggressively hiding the actual numbers. Have they shipped millions? Thousands? Dozens? Has Amazon sold ten times as many Kindles as Sony has the PRS-500 Reader? Or one-tenth as many? We have no idea. None!

Is Amazon really working hard to ramp up production? Or is the company artificially creating a perception of high demand by playing games with production? If not, why hasn't it been able to fix the problem in four months? And since Amazon can't keep up with demand, why does it devote the very top center of the Amazon.com home page -- the most valuable real estate on the entire site -- to the creation of MORE demand?

Normally, I would be willing to trust a company like Amazon when its CEO and others in the company say popularity is to blame for their inability to keep up with demand. But Amazon's conspicuous, needless secrecy about unit shipments -- an act of secrecy that has become the "elephant in the living room" for e-book reader watchers -- makes me wonder.

Amazon: What are you hiding?

(Update: USA Today has a nice report today on this whole issue.)

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