How many Kindle Fires were sold?

Last September I argued against the potential of the Kindle Fire acting as a low end disruption in the tablet market.

Now that the first version of the product has reached is end of life, it’s time to review the discussion.

The first problem is finding out how well the product did. Amazon just released a statement that the Fire accounted for 22% of tablet sales in the US in the nine months it was available. The challenge becomes knowing how many total tablets were sold in the US during this time frame.

Fortunately we know the vast bulk of that total based on the Samsung v. Apple trial. Both Apple and Samsung submitted as evidence sales of the iPad and the Tab product lines in the US. The iPad added up to 16.14 million units (Q4’11 through Q2’12) and the Tab was 540k units. That makes the iPad and the Tab add up to about 16.7 million units. Assuming an additional 1 million units for the other (non-Kindle) total yields an estimate of 22.7 million tablet devices sold in the nine months ending June.

Applying the 22% claim to that total gives a Kindle sales total of 4.987 million. That’s awfully close to a round number of 5 million.

Since Amazon admitted that they ended production prior to launching a replacement (and presumably did so quite early in order to drain inventory,) then we can safely assume that the original production order was 5 million units.

Five million Kindle Fire units becomes the first reliable estimate of Kindle sales (based on Apple, Samsung and Amazon supplied information rather than guesses from analysts.)

So the question now is whether this is consistent with the hypothesis that the Fire is disrupting the tablet business.

Bearing in mind that this 5 million total was reached with prominent placement on and a loss-leading pricing, I would conclude that this is not an auspicious start for a disruptive product.

As I argued nearly a year ago, the business model for the Kindle is limited to the footprint of the Amazon franchise, which is small internationally. Amazon itself implicitly admitted that the product was a US-only phenomenon. Further worry comes from the way the company approached production. It was not planning it as a maximization of reach into the market. What they did was order a batch production and then wait for it to be sold through.

Perhaps Amazon is being patient for growth, but I don’t see a hunger for profit in this strategy. We know that Kindle probably lost money at the price charged. Perhaps it’s on the order of $40 per unit. Five million units would imply a charge against the business of $200 million. Did Amazon earn a profit on content sales of $40 on each of those five million units? The margins on content sold through Amazon are so low that I have a hard time imagining that Fire users are that ravenous in their consumption.

  • Sharon_Sharalike

    Amazon stock seems closer to a pyramid scheme than an investment. It’s all revenue and (almost) no profit. At a 1% profit margin they’d have to sell more than $11,000,000,000,000 of stuff to earn their market cap. Using their current revenue, if they’d somehow begun selling during the war of 1812 they still today would not have done so.

    • rational2

      Yet, mysteriously, the stock keeps climbing, along with its P/E. Buyers appear to be betting that Amazon can, at some point in the future, flip a switch and increase their profit margins on Kindle, AWS etc. As far as I can tell, Amazon is all about aggressively offering low cost devices and services. Good for consumers, but may not be a great deal for investors (except those who manage to sell it to a greater fool).

      • Chandra

        What you write about Amazon business model ( low margin seller ) is very much correct. And the market also knows that since the CEO keeps repeating that every chance he gets. So, no, the market is not expecting it to increase the profit margins. What they are accepting is that the current rate of spending is necessary. They also implicitly accept that Amazon can slow down spending at any time there by increasing earnings even though they do not expect amazon to do that any time soon. All this implies is the market believes in the massive potential to increase revenues and hope the earnings will catch up with the current valuation eventually, however many years it takes. For example, if we freeze Amazon price today, the market expects that eventually Amazon will sell 300 billion dollars worth of products and services at 3% margin for a 12 P/E.

        They are just paying for that future now. Will the stock price increase? Sure, if the market believes that they can sell 400 billion dollars worth of products in the future.

      • DaveChapin77

        And if they get all of WalMart’s & Target’s existing business they could get there.

      • Chandra

        Point well taken. I personally see it as a tall order, but that is what the market seems to believe. The theory goes that while Walmart and Target need to build stores to grow, Amazon just needs to build fulfillment centers. I see the truth in it somewhat since I can pretty much find anything on Amazon, much better variety and price points than Walmart or Target. It is actually quite scary and astonishing to look at the breadth and depth of the products that are carried by Amazon. ( the bad side is, it is difficult these days to search for something, you get many similar looking things which you have to pay close attention to ). The market believes in two things a) The world is going to buy on line more and more. b) Amazon has other businesses that make money than Walmart and Target and their platform is scalable for all sorts of things. What Amazon is building and fulfilling has never been done before and they seem to be fairly successful in the execution on both counts.

        But still 300B-400B a year is far and far away, if at all they get there.

      • DaveChapin77

        The disruption for AMZN is manufacturers doing like AAPL is doing and going direct to the customer. They get the direct relationship to their end users which is better for support and business feedback, and they get that retail margin.

        Frankly with search Engines like GOOG and the fact this direct model has been around for awhile (think DELL and CSCO), I’m surprised manufacturers are still as beholden to retailers as they are.

        Take Sony, they tried; but they just didn’t have the stones to go all the way with this model. I’ll bet Samsung will though and some of the other bigger electronics vendors will over time. They ape everything else AAPL does.

        The other disruption for AMZN is retailers and direct selling manufacturers banding together behind eBay. That would provide an alternative one stop shopping experience with deep deep variety. Unlike AMZN which competes w/ its 3rd party retailers for the sweet spot products, eBay would not. And eBay’s cut would be less — probably far far less, possibly zero hell maybe even negative if users use PayPal. And speaking of PayPal, they can provide easy billing because #1 so many people already have a PayPal account so no need for YASU (Yet Another Sign Up) and #2 it’s integrated into the eBay buying experience.

      • Tatil_S

        > “much better […] price points than Walmart or Target”
        Is that good news or bad news for Amazon shareholders? 🙂 It is not like Amazon is selling at lower price points while achieving higher or similar margins than Walmart. It seems the cost advantage is coming out of its own margins. It is like Craigslist. It destroyed newspaper classifieds business without making much money itself. All disruption, no profits…

  • RushBC

    Do you think that this means Amazon will kill the Fire?

    • Sharon_Sharalike

      No chance. They have to keep growing revenue. Any sign of slowing growth and the stock plummets.

      • Indeed. I won’t call it a Ponzi scheme, but it’s clearly a bubble. Any hint that their inflated valuation won’t eventually be matched by equally inflated profits and they’re toast. Or rather their shareholders are toast, the company will survive just fine.

    • It all depends on whether they can get the economics to work. It’s possible that they will narrow the gap between subsidy and profit per device as they improve their sourcing or the cost structure overall.

    • abugida

      Maybe they just don’t adhere to “disruption” theory. 5 million are a good start. They will simply strive to make a better gen 2 device that will sell a lot more. They’ve done the same with the Kindle.

      • What you’re suggesting is exactly disruption theory.

      • abugida

        What I’m suggesting is trivial. You don’t necessarily need a theory to describe that, and to see if they failed or succeeded. If you could predict the outcome, the theory might be useful, but I still feel we’re just watching how it goes.

    • Walt French

      Today’s rumor is that Amazon will introduce an “ad-supported” successor. Mind-boggling. If this is true, how will they do it?

      Maybe they will run exclusively in-house ads with coupons, even; maybe there’s some other ad network they can tap into (probably NOT iAd); maybe they’ll partner with Google. The first two seem remotely possible; the last quite unlikely. But time will tell!

      If the first, then Amazon will be building a deeper moat around its own properties and services, but being even LESS disruptive to the market.

      • GeorgeS

        Walt: Amazon already sells an ad-supported version of the Kindle reader.

  • quote:
    “Did Amazon earn a profit on content sales of $40 on each of those five million units?”

    If true, this would mean that they break even with the Fire but that they do not get any profit yet!

    • It’s worse than that. The $40 has to be extra money the spent on Amazon _because_ they had a Kindle Fire, over and above anything they would have spent on Amazon anyway.

      • cellojoe

        It’s worth than that, because it’s not as if the content they sell on the fire is 100% profit if it has 20 or 30% profit margins you might need to sell 100 $5200 worth of content to break even

      • cellojoe


  • It might be an interesting thought experiment to imagine what might have happened if Google and Amazon had played to their strengths and partnered up. Google could have replaced Google Play (save for the app store) with Amazon content and Amazon could have let Google write tablet software. In addition, Amazon would have also gained worldwide distribution. With both companies not really looking to make money from hardware (not yet, at least), they could have priced it very competitively.

    In a space with Microsoft + Nokia + Facebook and Apple + Facebook + Twitter + many other smaller players, it seems amiss that Amazon is trying to do everything itself.

    • Google and Amazon have competing business models — Google wants free content to draw eyeballs it can sell, while Amazon wants to own the distribution pipe to the customer so that he can only buy content from them. They’re not quite directly opposed to each other, but definitely would have been working at cross purposes.

      An Apple/Amazon team-up might have made somewhat more sense, especially before the iBookstore. But that would have meant ceding all sales to Amazon, and probably locking out other sellers on the iOS devices. And that would greatly decrease the value of the device to customers.

      I often wonder about a potential Microsoft/Amazon team-up now, but I think both of them would wind up wanting to own the customer, and Microsoft seems to be doing well enough in making deals with the content providers (at least on the Xbox), and the content providers are probably as suspicious of Amazon as they are of Apple, though for slightly different reasons. If we see it, I would read it as a desperation move on Microsoft’s part to get back into the mobile device game, which they seem to be locked out of partly due to lack of content ecosystem.

      • Walt French

        I see the Fire as Amazon’s equivalent to the Apple stores. Retailing is not a core function of Apple; providing first-class experiences on devices is, and that requires strong retail/service. Likewise, electronics manufacture and *retail* software support is not a core expertise of Amazon. (Yes, they have some fine systems & services.)

        Companies sometimes look at tie-in functions as almost-free incremental profits to their mainline businesses, but that is exactly the type of bloat that I think Apple is attempting to minimize. I agree that had the Amazon and Apple businesses had a bit more similar ethos, they could have made nice music together. I suppose it’s a sign of how hard it is to get these major deals done, that the more entrepreneurial spirits haven’t found this natural alliance.

        Microsoft and Amazon are in utterly different businesses, Enterprise and mass consumer, when they aren’t directly competing (e.g., in cloud services). I don’t see any way to make synergies happen between those two.

      • Yes, my view of the Fire isn’t so much that it’s a tablet subsided by content sales as much as it’s an Amazon home-sales kiosk subsidized by the consumer.

        The main reason I was thinking of a Microsoft/Amazon deal is that Microsoft needs a more compelling content ecosystem for mobile devices, though they appear to be getting their for the Xbox. It’s not so clear what Amazon would get out of such a deal, unless Microsoft suddenly got a lot of mobile devices out there. But I could see MS cutting an exclusive sales channel deal with Amazon, if the price was right.

  • With the imminent arrival of the iPad Mini (yes I realize it’s just a rumor but where there’s smoke there’s fire) I don’t see much hope for the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7 unless you’re an absolute Android fan.

    • Tatil_S

      What if iPad Mini is priced at $250 or $300, while Nexus is at $200 and Fire even lower?

      • Sacto_Joe

        I fully expect that the SuperTouch will in fact be priced between $250 and $300. But I also fully expect it to have immediate access to hundreds of thousands of sophisticated apps. That will be its selling point.

      • DaveChapin77

        It’s no coincidence that GOOG is promoting the Nexus 7 strictly for passive content listening/playing. They have negligible tablet specific apps. Their marketing approach does a nice job of getting discussion completely off of that topic.

      • Tatil_S

        I did not mean to imply that iPad Mini would not be successful with that price difference. I just wanted to point out that if such a price difference happens, Nexus and Fire could also be successful, even if one is not “an absolute Android fan”.

      • Joe_Winfield_IL

        I think if Apple lowers its iPad minimum price to $250, other manufacturers will mightily struggle to gain critical mass. The difference between $200 and $500 is huge – the lower price attracts the attention of a huge customer base that couldn’t even look at an iPad.

        The difference between $200 and $250 is negligible by comparison. If the mythical 8″ iPad ships in the $250-280 range, I sincerely believe the app selection and premium experience will outweigh the price disadvantage for most shoppers.

      • Exactly. It’s not necessarily the absolute price, but rather the relative price vs relative customer value. Only tablets that have seen any meaningful sales, were priced 250-300 less than iPad. HP Touchpad saw zero sales at iPad price, hardly any more at 100 and 200 dollars less, and when dropped 400 bucks to $99, HP sold them all. Same with RIMM Playbooks. Even at 300 cheaper, demand has barely increased. Non-iPad tablets have to be priced at a huge discount to make up for the fact that they are not iPads.

        People who buy $200 tablets based on the low price are 1) able to afford iPad, but aren’t that interested in tablets and not willing to spend 500 on something they don’t think they will use much 2) unable to comfortably afford 500 product. An iPad that is only 50-100 more than Kindle and Nexus 7 tabs will have a crushing effect. If one is willing to spend 200, surely they would be willing to spend 50, or even 100 more and get a much better product that they trust, opposed to potentially wasting 200 on complete junk.

        The iPad mini isn’t just about competing on price, it’s also about offering a smaller form factor. The iPad display is so big, and the iPhone is so small, no Apple device in the middle. And a lot of small tablets were sold not because of the low price, but because people prefered a smaller device than iPad.

      • Davel

        By all accts the Nexus 7 is a good device. I have a friend who loves it.

        I am not sure about quality/quantity of content but it’s reception means Apple has to release the mini at $100 less than the cheapest iPad. This will mean the consumer will have to make a real choice between a little more money vs less software/content.

      • abugida

        iPad is $400 today, and judging by Apple’s comments and iPad ASP, lots of people have noticed.

      • Darwin

        Read his comment again. You didn’t get it.

      • abugida

        I get that he uses the word “huge” a lot, and that he’s exaggerating the current iPad price for dramatic effect.

      • Nope, try again.

      • Oliver Bruce

        Also thinking that it might ship with 16gb minimum, so as to match the $250 price point of the nexus. I don’t think Apple will go for 8gb on the iPad – it seems to small.

      • foolcat

        Just for reference
        Asus provide Nexus 7 in HK but only 16GB. Price HK$2398 (~USD 299)
        So sad.

      • Tatil_S

        Wow… 50% higher? Asus must be furious with Google for setting the price so low in the US. Now there is no way any Android 7” tablet can sell for any higher price, which probably means nobody can make any money selling hardware.

      • foolcat

        US$100 for 8GB more ram. Yes, I think so.
        Besides, on the advertisement & press release, it is named Asus Google Nexus 7.

      • An iPad at $50 more than a Nexus 7 will easily outsell the Nexus 7 as it is a far better value with higher quality, service and support, and destroys any Android tablet in app selection and quality. Especially if it’s a 16 gb iPad mini which I bet it will be.

  • Oliver Bruce

    As Horace pointed out in the original article on the Fire, “Consider that none of the content streams that Amazon will depend on are available outside the US.” – this hasn’t improved in the time since.

    One of the interesting things about living in New Zealand/the Middle East is that the Fire is nowhere to be seen in the retail environment. I’ve seen one, and that was owned by a mother of a child who was studying in the States. Almost everything she tried to load was blocked, which made it useful really only for ebooks.

    iTunes Store is now present in 90 countries worldwide, and is working to actively overcome the barriers to payment (prepaid accounts for non-creditcard holders etc.) in these markets. I’ve cannot find the proportion of non-US sales in the iTunes store in Horace’s prior analysis, but I’m willing to bet that like hardware sales growth its primarily non-US and growing fast.

    My point is that until Amazon starts playing the international markets, its not going to pose a significant threat to Apple or the wider tablet market. Its also why I believe a lower priced iPad is going to be even bigger than analysts predict in developing markets.

    • abugida

      To be fair, their bread-and-butter retail business is present in all of the big economies, they just haven’t followed up with their electronic services yet. Making those license deals and building the infrastructure is a challenge for everyone, it’s Apple that has a 5 year head start. But there are some things already available at least in the European markets, like the Lovefilm video streaming service, and, as of this week, their App Store. I would expect them to offer the Fire in a handful of additional markets this year.

      • handleym

        “Making those license deals and building the infrastructure is a challenge for everyone”

        Regarding deals, as interesting future development (which I have no idea how will play out) is 4K content.
        Some of the contours are, I think, obvious:

        (a) Sony claims to be trying to push this, presumably both to bump sales of new TVs, and to bump sales of pro equipment. They will presumably try to also push such content through their content arm.

        (b) At some point h.265 will arrive, and a natural way for Apple to both make h.265 valuable AND not confuse buyers too much by having them download h.265 content and try to play it on h.264 devices is to (at least for a time) essentially equate 4K content with h.265, so content will be sold in SD, HD and 4K tiers.

        (c) 4K content can be sold (to some extent) as complementing Mac retina displays. It will look better on any >1080p retina display, in particular future iMacs.

        So we have a natural affinity between Apple and Sony Picture (+ of course Disney/Pixar).

        Meanwhile 4K content ain’t gonna be broadcast (we’re not ready for that political fight yet) or sent over crowded cable channels (which mostly haven’t yet got their act together wrt even HD content).
        It seems unlikely that anyone’s going to bother developing UV-Ray discs, given the underwhelming success (as far as I can tell) of Blu-Ray. (Though who knows — there are various prototype enhanced optical discs with claims of up to 1TB on a disc.)

        It does seem like streaming will be a big deal as far as 4K content goes, and here is where Apple *may* have a whole new set of deals sewn up, just as Amazon and Google get their basic video sorted out. And Apple has more capability than Google (not Amazon) to ensure that h.265 HW is available across their product line, if they deem it worthwhile.

        On the other hand, whether this matters depends on how 4K content is priced. If Sony et al imagine they can charge a 30% or higher premium for 4K content, I expect them to be bitterly disappointed. I may be wrong, but my guess is that, while people will note and appreciate the improved quality of 4K, they won’t care enough to actually pay for it, or not more than a nugatory amount — maybe 5% more.

      • kaelef

        4K won’t be a decision-making factor for most consumers any time soon. The difference between 480p (SD) and 1080p (HD) isn’t obvious to a lot of people at TV screen sizes smaller than 42″. It’s unlikely there will be much demand for 4K on TV screen sizes less than 65″. Note that all the product demonstrations and announcements for 4K technology to date have been for huge TV screens (larger than 72″).

        As for Blu-Ray, it was designed from the onset to support the addition of more optical layers beyond the two that are used for 50GB discs today. Both Sony and Sharp have demonstrated or announced 100GB Blu-Ray discs. Combine this with the expected 50%+ improvement in compression performance in H.265 video, and it doesn’t look like delivering 4K video on a future form of Blu-Ray will be a problem. Wether or not there will be demand for this is a different question.

      • DaveChapin77

        Wow, talk about skating to where the puck is going to be. Next gen video format, super high end, and the new Codecs to support them. If Apple were going to make a TV, a “real” TV, that would be the one to try to make

      • miguel

        Not really. Amazon’s presence in spanish speaking countries is weak. Recently I tried to buy a cd by two Spanish singers (Serrat y Sabina) the week after its release in the spanish amazon page. It was nowhere to be seen, while it was at the top of the charts in Spain. For 16.95, I purchased the CD in the US store.

      • abugida

        The presence in Spain must be quite new? At least in France, UK, Germany and Japan they’re very entrenched. Overall, international sales are 45 % of their revenues.

        Quoting: Amazon’s international presence encompasses the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, China and Canada.
        Sales growth in Amazon’s international business – which is predominantly European – slowed to 22 per cent year-on-year from 31 per cent in the previous quarter
        In the past quarter in the US, Amazon’s sales grew at 36 per cent, the same rate as in the previous three months.

      • unhinged

        I’m in Australia and buy through the US store. I don’t know how they’re accounting for “International Sales” – are they saying sales through the non-US stores, or sales shipped to non-US destinations?

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  • Alan

    16.7 + 1 = 22.7?

    • Werner

      16.7 is for 9 months, 22.7 is for the whole year

      • GeorgeS

        Werner: No, it’s not for a whole year. Horace added in the Kindle Fire by percentage, as he explained above.

    • Cory

      Plus 5 million Kindle Fires

    • kevin

      16.7 (apple) + 1 (samsung and other) + 5 (amazon) = 22.7 (total market)

    • Alan

      Yes, now I get it : 17.7 is 78% of the total

    • 16.7 + 1 is 78% of total. The way I wrote it may not have been clear.

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  • That figure come from Magid research survey on ownership or rather installed base. They estimate that there are 51M tablet users with iPad at 50% and Amazon at 22%. That would equate to 25.5M iPad users where we know that 34M have been sold. So that’s way inaccurate. Also it would imply 11M+ Kindle Fire users which is very hard to believe. So I don’t have any faith in that figure Amazon stated

  • Sebi

    Microsoft would love to get 20% share of the tablet market for 200 million dollar.

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  • Sacto_Joe

    Amazon can claim anything it wants simply by adjusting what they think the total sales of tablets is. If they actually sold 3 million (and how many of those were bought, returned, and still counted as “sold”?), and say that only 13.64 million tablets were sold, then the numbers still work out!

  • sne

    Does anyone have a plausible explanation that reconciles 5M Kindle Fires being sold with the relatively low web browsing statistics I’ve seen posted? The consensus seems to be that 95%+ of tablet based browsing is on iPads. Is it possible that many Fires have been sold, and are simply not being used very much? Or that they are used mainly to consume Amazon content, and not as general purpose tablets?
    Even in the U.S. I have only seen a few “in the wild.” I know a couple of people that own and like the Fire but it seems much rarer compared to the iPad than a 22% share suggests – although the iPad’s been in production longer, so it would be a smaller share of devices in use. I don’t want to generalize from such a small sample, but there definitely seems to be a gap between the reality I see and the numbers Amazon is claiming.

    • I agree. I have seen a few Fires in the wild, pretty much only other tablet I have seen besides iPads. I have seen tons of iPads. This 22% figure is non-sense. It’s based off a flawed survey which suggests there are 11M Fire users and only 25M iPad users. We know for sure there are many less Kindles and many more iPads.

    • Walt French

      I find it credible, and telling. The tablets were not designed for high-performance surfing, nor were they bought by people who were likely to emphasize surfing.

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  • sleepy

    Circumstantial evidence. I think they did very likely make a profit on the Fire, because they bought kits of parts from RIM at $100 discount per kit. Leading to RIM’s $485M write down on the Playbook last December. They were all built in December, enabling Amazon’s claim that customers were buying at over 1 million per week during December. Presumably they bed-and-breakfasted the inventory somewhere in case the deception got them in trouble (where else but at RIM again? RIM were over a barrel). There were only ever going to be about 4.7M Fires.

    • The write-down was for unsold inventory. Are you suggesting that those units were “re-manufactured” into Fires?

      • DaveChapin77

        I think that could very well be. The damn things looked exactly the same. We know they took the PlayBook reference design. That’s always been public knowledge. Why not take the parts too? We don’t know what form that inventory was after all. It could easily have been parts that RIM paid for but that never got assembled.

      • GeorgeS

        Yes, the write-down was for unsold inventory, but it still existed. It was just worth less than they had been carrying it on their balance sheet. It could still be sold as parts or assembled. The sales would show up in RIM’s revenue.

    • If the Wikipedia articles are accurate, the Playbook and the Fire have somewhat different components, though I can easily believe they’re both based on the same reference design. Different processors, different amounts of RAM, and different amounts of flash make it semi-unlikely that the Playbook parts kits were repurposed, though it’s possible that some unused Playbook parts were diverted to making Fires. But it’s pretty certain that the processor (one of the more expensive parts) wasn’t re-used, since the Fire uses a lower-end OMAP processor than the Playbook did.

      Most likely, Quanta took the designs they had for the Playbook and did a cost-reduction re-spin, while keeping as much of the Playbook’s design and tooling intact to keep their manufacturing costs down and margins up. And they probably did employ a lot of the same secondary components, since the contract manufacturers often buy those themselves, and they’d get better economies of scale that way. But that wouldn’t have involved buying the parts from RIM, most likely, just using ones Quanta had originally signed up to buy to build Playbooks for which orders never materialized.

    • No way Amazon made a profit on the Fire. I bet they lost money supporting them and in returns because of shoddy build quality and software.

  • Darwin

    Neither Amazon or Google are making money on their tablets which is pathetic. But Apple will on an iPad Mini and blow away Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 sales in the process. Even Android fanboys know this but won’t admit it.

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  • Jacob Dylan Cannon

    By the way all of my family which includes almost 60 kindle fires are in my family so suck it amazon is the best and you know it stop fussing on them your just jealous

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