Amazon Kindle Users Are Older Than You Think

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Mike Segar / Reuters

Author Stephen King holds up a pink Amazon Kindle 2 at a news conference in New York City

Someone at technology news site, Cnet, came up with the clever idea of running a poll to learn the age of people who use Amazon's miracle book reader, the Kindle. Seven hundred people responded, which puts the survey somewhat below what researchers would expect from Gallup, but it is a reasonable straw poll, nonetheless.

What surprised Cnet and what should surprise anyone who looks at the results is that 50% of the people who use Kindles are over 50 years old. Twenty-seven percent were over 60. (See pictures of the Kindle and other travel gadgets.)

Since the Kindle qualifies as "new technology", it is supposed to find its initial market among the young and impressionable. The opposite appears to be true. People who should have fixed habits including reading physical books using reading glasses are buying an electronic book reader instead.

The Kindle is not cheap. With money being tight, it may be that older, affluent consumers are much more likely to spend $359 than the younger, unemployed people who will graduate from college this year. The e-books are expensive, too. A copy of Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! costs $9.99. People under 50 are not likely to buy that book anyway. Buying a magazine is a better deal. An issue of The Reader's Digest for Kindle costs only $1.25, but that is a publication for older people, as are most of the Kindle magazines which include old people favorites Forbes, The Atlantic, and US News. It is interesting that Teen People is not one of the magazine titles being offered for Kindle.

What marketers still don't talk about is that old people with money are the largest consumers of a number of things besides multivitamins and sweaters. According to Forbes, the average age of the people who buy the extremely expensive and fast Porsche 911 is 51 years old. Their median annual income is $390,000. That means that a great many of the people driving dangerously fast cars are in their late fifties and their sixties. Trying to sell Porsches to people under 40 is probably a waste of money, especially now that almost all of the hedge fund managers are out of work.

The Kindle, the Porsche, and most other expensive and discretionary purchases made in the United States are made by older people. It is not unusual that Kindle sales spiked when Oprah said how much she loved the product. Oprah was born in 1954, and most of the people who watch her on TV or read her magazine are probably middle aged or older. (Read Oprah Winfrey on Michelle Obama from the TIME 100.)

Amazon may be bothered by the fact that the public knows that Kindle buyers are not all young and fresh-faced like many of the people who own Apple (AAPL) iPhones. But, reading can be a good deal more expensive than talking, at least among voracious readers. The Kindle probably does not have many users who only read two or three books a year. That may not make the Amazon marketing management feel any better. Most marketers follow a simple rule when it comes to age. Old people will often want to buy what young people have. Young people never want what old people have, except for their money.

The Kindle is being bought by mature and well-to-do consumers. Amazon will just have to live with that.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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