Why Amazon Loses Money On Every Kindle Fire : Planet Money The Kindle Fire is a book store, a movie theater and a record shop. And Amazon's the one selling the books, movies and music.
NPR logo

Why Amazon Loses Money On Every Kindle Fire

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/142310104/142336145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Why Amazon Loses Money On Every Kindle Fire

Why Amazon Loses Money On Every Kindle Fire

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/142310104/142336145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Some other news now. Amazon shot out the latest round in the computer tablet wars yesterday - the Kindle Fire. The company ended up shipping the device a day earlier to get it in the hands of buyers a bit sooner. It's sleek, looks a little like an iPad with a touch screen, but the Fire costs $300 less than the iPad.

Another major difference between the iPad and its younger, cheaper cousin is that Amazon is selling this new tablet at a loss. That means the Kindle Fire costs more to make than it costs to buy. NPR's Zoe Chace of our Planet Money team has this look at how the company plans to make money.

ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: If you wanted a tablet and sat out from the iPad frenzy because it costs too much or the line was too long, Amazon has a message for you. You can't afford not to get this one.

ANDREW RASSWEILER: Amazon is trying to put a storefront in your hands for which they're willing to more or less give it away.

CHACE: Andrew Rassweiler knows what he's talking about, because he's one of the only people in the world who can speak confidently about how much it costs Amazon to make one of these tablets. He does what are called teardowns for the research firm IHS iSuppli. And it's exactly what it sounds like.

RASSWEILER: It's really hard to tell until you've taken a screwdriver to it.

CHACE: Is that what you guys do? You actually, like, rip it apart with your bare hands?

RASSWEILER: There's no other way.

CHACE: Obviously, the Kindle Fire just came out yesterday so Andrew hasn't been able to tear the thing apart. But they did a preliminary estimate, adding up things like the touch screen, the memory, the battery, based on the other tablets they've ripped apart in the past.

RASSWEILER: Two hundred and nine dollars for materials and manufacturing.

CHACE: Amazon sells the Kindle Fire for $199. But they're out much more than 10 dollars on each of the Fires because Rassweiler's estimate doesn't include the licensing deals Amazon cuts to stream content or the marketing costs so that we all knew the Fire was coming out this week.

RASSWEILER: For Kindle and Amazon, it's very similar to the business model of service providers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon.

CHACE: Phone companies that sell the actual phones at a loss, but make up for it when they lock you into that contract. That is exactly what Amazon hopes to do. Once you're inside the ecosystem, there are a whole bunch of ways they can make money off you. You buy their books, their movies, their music. You're locked in. There's no Apple store on an Amazon device. Amazon is basically spending $10 to buy your loyalty. The loyalty will turn a profit.

Eduardo Porter has written about this strategy in his book, "The Price of Everything."

EDUARDO PORTER: Printers and printer ink. One very common tactic of printer manufacturers is to sell printers very, very cheap and printer ink very expensive.

CHACE: Get it? Forty dollar printer. Seems like a steal. It will last for a long time; it's fancy and high tech. But a printer without ink is useless. And you have to buy the ink that goes with that particular brand of printer - HP ink or Canon ink. And the ink will run you...

PORTER: Four thousand seven hundred and thirty-one dollars a gallon. That's the price of 1985 vintage Krug champagne.

CHACE: Oh. Do you purchase those often?

PORTER: No I do not.

CHACE: Amazon didn't start out as a computer company, unlike, say, Apple. For Amazon, the computer is simply a means to an end.

PORTER: Amazon was a store that just happened to be online, and you can get at it on whatever device you wanted.

CHACE: Primarily a bookstore - at first. And though Amazon sells much more than books now, you can buy basically anything you would ever want on Amazon, it's their identity as a bookseller that drove them to make tablets.

PORTER: I think it was driven by a realization that more and more reading was going to happen on these objects, rather than on books. And if it was going to stay in the book business, it had to move into this new platform.

CHACE: You've heard the expression, there's no such thing as a free lunch?

PORTER: The practice by bars in the mid-19th century in the United States, to give you a free meal if you had drinks. And, of course, there was lots of salt in the meal.

CHACE: The Kindle Fire's not free, but it's certainly cheap. And if having one of those makes you thirsty for more Amazon products, then the loss pays off. Zoe Chace, NPR News, New York.



Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.