- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2009

NEW YORK | Amazon.com has kept its Kindle electronic book reader shrouded in some mystery. The online retailer has said the device is out of stock, but it hasn’t said how many were sold.

On Tuesday, Citi Investment Research analyst Mark Mahaney offered an educated guess - that Amazon sold 500,000 Kindles last year. That is higher than his previous expectation of 380,000.

Mr. Mahaney bases his latest estimate in part on a regulatory filing from Sprint Nextel Corp., which is a key player since the Kindle downloads books wirelessly over Sprint’s network. The filing notes that 210,000 of “certain wholesale devices” were activated on Sprint’s network during the July-September period by “wholesale partners prior to selling the device to the end customer.”

Mr. Mahaney said in an interview that this is the first time Sprint has disclosed such a figure, and he believes it refers directly to the number of Kindles that were purchased during that three-month period. Sprint spokesman James Fisher said the company had no comment.

Amazon has not released sales figures for the $359 Kindle - which debuted late in 2007 - although it said last fall that it had sold out of the devices after an endorsement by Oprah Winfrey. In the fourth quarter, the company made another 45,000 book titles available for the Kindle, bringing the total to 230,000.

The company is widely believed to be releasing a new version soon.

In his note to clients, Mr. Mahaney estimated that revenue from the Kindle could rise to $1.2 billion by 2010 - which he thinks would be 4 percent of Amazon’s revenue for that year.

Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener would not address the accuracy of Mr. Mahaney’s estimate.

Symantec to secure Ask.com traffic

Ask.com is counting on people’s fear of online mischief to bring more traffic to its Internet search engine.

To give Web surfers greater peace of mind, Ask has forged a deal that will plant its search engine on Norton security software made by Symantec Corp. The latest test version of Norton 360 will rate the security threat posed by sites found through searches done through the new toolbar.

Financial details about the two-year deal aren’t being disclosed.

The partnership connects Ask.com to the tens of millions of people who rely on Norton’s Internet security software to detect sites that distribute potentially malicious or nettlesome computer programs.

Oakland, Calif.-based Ask has been striving to boost its share of the lucrative Internet search market for several years. However, it hasn’t had much success despite rolling out new products that have won positive reviews and have been promoted heavily in campaigns financed by its corporate parent, IAC/InterActiveCorp.

Through December, Ask remained in fourth place in the U.S. search market with a roughly 4 percent share, according to comScore Inc. Google dominated the market with a share of about 63 percent, followed by Yahoo Inc. at 17 percent and Microsoft Corp. at 11 percent.

Ask’s effort to do a better job identifying dangerous Web sites is a game of catch-up.

Last year, Yahoo joined forces with Symantec rival McAfee Inc. to offer security alerts in its search results. Google also has an early warning system that’s designed to guard its users against high-tech skullduggery.

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