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If I were an investor, I would like to know how many units that have been bought by consumers. Since Sony is losing money on each console sold, I would want to know how many customers actually have the system so I know the potential softwares sales. The consoles sitting on the shelves does Sony no good.

Sure, but videogame consoles are a very cyclical industry. About half of all console sales take place in the holiday season (Oct-Dec). My guess is, with something as complex as the PS3, Sony is probably under the gun to stockpile as many PS3s for the holiday season as possible. The 5.5 million shipped/ 3.1 million sold makes sense, from this point of view. Since PS3s are fairly hefty, they have to be shipped via ocean freighter, which takes 24-48 days to reach its destination. Global demand is about 200,000 units per month, maybe a little more, so Sony probably has 400,000 to 500,000 units in transit. The rest -- about 2 million -- are being held back for the holiday season.  

But this is just a guess. Can anyone with logistics experience confirm/deny this?