Amazon's Kindle is sold out "temporarily," according to the e-reader's web page, causing a bit of a fuss on the Intertubes. Is it a sign a new version is en route, or merely reflecting a manufacturing or supply chain glitch? We've had a think.
Amazon's Kindle e-reader has been sold out before: Back in December 2009 it was reported to be sold out "until February," and the first ever batch sold out in under six hours. It also sold out just before the Kindle 2 arrived, presumably as Amazon was keeping minimal inventory and didn't mind the sales gap between the old and new versions. So what's going on this time? Remembering all these lessons from the past, and the fact Amazon's just revamped the Kindle DX into a very similar, but graphite-colored version, we think there are three options:
1. The Kindle is selling as per normal, but a spike in purchases—possibly caused by the arrival of summer, and with it more folks buying Kindles up with the intention of reading an e-book or two during their vacations. This situation may well have been accentuated by the recent Kindle 2 price drop. We know Amazon's had issues keeping inventory in stock for several years now, presumably to minimize any fiscal risk of keeping hold of unsold merchandise, so a spike in buyer numbers could easily empty the supply store, until manufacturers can catch up. There's direct word from the maker of the Kindle's screen, E-Ink, that they'll ramp up supply to meet demand—which lends credence to this conclusion.
2. There's a manufacturing or supply chain-related error underway. Amazon's just-in-time approach to filling Kindle inventories is excellent for a number of financial reasons, but as the British armed forces have found out, when the situation suddenly changes (i.e. a war starts), just-in-time can fail, and you can be left without boots to wear. In Amazon's case a critical breakdown in one factory or even something simple like a delivery loss—such as a shipping container sliding into the sea—could cripple the production process, and result in a shortage in the stores. When the glitch is corrected, the Kindle will be selling as per usual.
3. A new Kindle is en route, and Amazon's merely emptied the stockroom shelves of the old gear. It's happened before, and there's no reason to think it won't happen again. The Kindle DX has just got its cosmetic tweak into the DX Graphite, and it would be perfectly reasonable to imagine some upgrade love would go on the Kindle 2 too. Will it be a Kindle 3, though? We're not convinced. There're some rumblings that a new, slimmer Kindle will arrive, but we think any upgrade would be pretty straightforward: Better graphics handling perhaps, faster page-turning, improved contrast on the e-ink display. A new darker-colored paint job would be a pretty safe bet too. Amazon's also been famously enigmatic about its supposedly flagship product, never revealing direct sales figures, or even when new hardware upgrades are due ... so the fact there's not much detailed news about this isn't necessarily surprising.
Which of these three options is likely to be true? We're favoring the first one, with an option on the third: Amazon's mysterious handling of Kindle PR, the fact that there's no estimated new date for stock and the fact that Apple's rival(ish) iPad is selling like hotcakes is what supports the notion a new Kindle's on the way. Will a new Kindle help boost Amazon's plans? We can only hope Amazon moves fast—the iPad is very quickly eating up the market.
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