Forget about Christmas: Kindle back orders stretch 3 months at Amazon

Amazon Kindle
Which would make Valentine's Day a crap shoot, too.

Yesterday a colleague was raving about her Kindle -- Amazon's much-hyped and Oprah-endorsed e-book reader -- so, primarily out of curiosity, I asked what a Santa's helper might expect to spend on one of those bad boys.

Her e-mail reply: "$359, but I think you've already missed Christmas (the estimated ship date is 11 to13 weeks)."

Say what? Eleven to 13 weeks? Christmas is only 30 days from today, so the fact that a hot toy is out of stock shouldn't be a shocker; but three months for a gadget that's been on virtual shelves for a year already?

Here's what Amazon says on its main Kindle page:

Usually ships within 11 to 13 weeks. ... Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is sold out. Please ORDER KINDLE NOW to reserve your place in line. We prioritize orders on a first come, first served basis. This item will arrive after December 24.

Quite a bit after Dec. 24. And does that "usually" open the door to even longer waits?

As might be expected, would-be buyers are not happy. Here's one recent reaction culled from Amazon's legendary "customer reviews" section:

"You have to be kidding me: an 11- to 13-week back order just before Xmas. Amazon sure screwed up here. I wanted a Kindle for Xmas but I will instruct my wife not to purchase one. Why should she pay a premium for a product that has been out for so long? Amazon has had plenty of time to build up inventory and now the week of Thanksgiving the Kindle is on back order. Very disappointing. ... I am so angry!"

That seems an unassailable point of view, yet the reviewer was assailed by several of those who already have (and clearly cherish) their Kindles. It was off-topic and unfair of Mr. Angry to vent, allege The Lucky Ones, given that he has not actually caressed a Kindle in his own hands. Off topic? I don't know. It seems to me that a three-month wait is pretty darn on topic for Amazon visitors doing their Christmas shopping.

I suppose it's worth noting that there was a "used -- like new" Kindle for sale at Amazon ... one ... for $800. And you can have your pick of them if you're willing to compete and pay a hefty premium at eBay.

The easy explanation for Kindle demand outstripping Kindle supply is the vaunted Oprah Effect, although at least one analyst is skeptical of that theory.

But might the shortage be contrived, as is often alleged in such situations? Just another way to drum up publicity? ... Please, this makes Amazon look plain inept. Difficult to imagine even the dumbest marketer pulling this stunt on purpose.

I've got a request in with Amazon public relations for comment about all of this. Hope they get back to me in less than 11 to 13 weeks.

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