E-readers: Would it kill vendors to provide sales stats?

Barnes & Noble's nook is its "best-selling product" and has the potential for a halo effect that will drive sales, digital and physical. Sounds great except sales figures are a no-show. Welcome to the data-free e-reader playbook.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Barnes & Noble's nook is its "best-selling product" and has the potential for a halo effect that will drive sales, digital and physical. Sounds great except sales figures are a no-show.

Sound familiar?

Welcome to the e-reader playbook. Sales are just swell, but no one will give you any hard data. A few weeks ago Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, obviously prodded by the Apple iPad announcement, said there are millions of Kindles sold. That statement may have helped guesstimates, but not by much.

On Tuesday, it was time Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio to give a data-free nook update. "Due to the strategic nature of the whole digital business we won't be breaking out ebook sales or sales of the Nook device," said Riggio.

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Also: Apple’s iPad vs. Amazon’s Kindle: It’s not zero sum

Funny that's what Amazon says. And Sony isn't coughing up units either. Why? These businesses just aren't material to companies that are huge. So we're left to guess.

More from Riggio:

Ebook sales are simply exploding at Barnes and Noble. And we all, are already seeing signs that our market share in some categories of ebooks will soon exceed our market share of physical books in those same categories. This is consistent with our view that the ebook market will be less fragmented. Less fragmented than that of physical books and we see this as evidence that we already strongly positioned to be major player. We therefore submit, we firmly believe that this is not a two-horse race by any means, as some in the press have written. We're still very early, it is the first lap. Our core technology is in place. Our digital catalog is growing fast. It boasts the largest collection of ebooks and digital content anywhere. And our ereader software, getting better every day, powers more platforms, including PCs, Macs and iPhones than any other company. We're expanding content at a lightning pace. Our content catalog, important to note is not just about ebooks. We see major, major growth opportunities ahead in the digital newsstand arena. And I will note that that is very familiar territory to us as we are the largest retailer of specialty magazines in America, with very strong relationships with hundreds and hundreds of very fine publishers that want to see their content distributed in digital format to their customers.


Nook is a great product. It has garnered great reviews. It is now our single best-selling product. And we believe the halo effect of Nook is soon going to be shown. It is building traffic in our stores, especially, we envision, a strong fourth quarter, when consumer electronics become one of the most wanted gift items in a customer's shopping list.

Barnes & Noble execs also said that Apple's iPad isn't a foe and that it can be a compliment to e-book sales via apps.

At this point, you can take Barnes & Noble's comments about the nook (all resources), attribute them to Amazon and not know the difference. There's a playbook that e-reader manufacturers are following and that means we may not get real data on sales for quite a while.

Related: Macmillan's DynamicBooks demo: Textbooks to the 'Wii era'?

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