Who Is Buying These Kindles?

If you want an Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Kindle for the holidays, you won't find it at Amazon.com itself. The site has been sold out of new units for two weeks. Interested buyers are being told to get in line because fresh units won't ship for another 11 to 13 weeks.

So where are folks turning to get their e-book reading fix?

Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) is the most obvious alternative. The company claims to have sold 300,000 units of its Sony Reader since its inception, in the ballpark of how many Kindle units are in the wild. Amazon has never come clean with an actual number, though market watcher Forrester Research pegs the tally at 400,000.

However, many high-tech bookworms won't settle for anything less than the Kindle. Opportunistic early adopters who paid as little as $259 may have tired of the gadgets and are now cashing in.

Over on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) , several hundred units are being sold, with sellers asking as much as $899.98. That's the asking prices, but scrolling through some recently concluded transactions shows that some poor saps have actually paid even more than that in recent days.

Third-party merchants on Amazon.com are selling it there, with used units going for as little as $450.

Again, more poor saps.

Why are folks buying something that Amazon is going to be mysteriously out of stock of for the next three months? Isn't it obvious that Amazon simply cleared out the last of its first-generation Kindles last month, clearing the way for new and improved units that will be out early next year? Even Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) does this, though it typically likes to narrow the gap to keep outages as brief as possible.

It would be great to hear Amazon publicly say this. It's not as if the company is profiting from the resale, right?

Well, not exactly. For starters, Amazon is obviously charging what are now 31 different sellers on its store a transaction fee on any used Kindle resales. Amazon would also benefit from having resellers with unopened units. Selling them off will further open the floodgates of incremental revenue in purchases of Kindle books, blogs, and newspapers through Amazon.com. Finally, stirring the Kindle resale pot sure beats sending book lovers to Sony, or -- gee -- old-school books at the local Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) or Borders (NYSE: BGP  ) before those relics go out of business.

Still, Amazon has never been as chatty about its Kindle as it should. Sure, CEO Jeff Bezos had his Oprah moment back in October. However, Amazon has never told the public how many Kindles have been sold, and now the company isn't being more explicit about the current shortage and the timeline or features of the next generation.

The end result of the silence? Suckers, overpaying for a device that can be had fresher, better, and cheaper at a fraction of today's resale prices before too long.

Stories that may have happier endings:

Borders Group is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. eBay, Amazon.com, and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.   

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz finally bought his Kindle back in May. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He owns no shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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