Amazon just concluded yet another rousing earnings call, which it must do as a publicly traded entity to give shareholders an idea about the health of the business as well as some indication about the success or failure of the company’s business strategy.
Sadly, Amazon deliberately makes these calls as painful as possible, reading off cold numbers from the earnings report and fumbling through analyst questions with answers that contain heavy financial jargon while not actually saying anything useful. All we really know about Amazon’s Q2 2013 is that it lost money instead of earning a profit, spent more on operational costs, and had customers spend more money with them.
The bland financial figures would be fine if Amazon’s entire business was pretty simple … like selling lemonade. But it’s not: The company has various, nontraditional strategies for success — like selling Kindle tablets at cost or its “free shipping” Prime membership service — which presumably are working because Amazon hasn’t gone under. Beyond that, we know nothing.
And yet, Amazon’s stock price closed above $300 per share today and hasn’t dipped much in after-hours trading. Why aren’t shareholders demanding more detailed information? Why aren’t they dumping Amazon as punishment for the company intentionally keeping them in the dark about the health of its business — aka their investment?
It must be because shareholders don’t know what information to demand from Amazon. That said, here’s a few points that would give us some kind of indication about how well the company is actually doing:
- How much total revenue did Amazon generate from digital media this quarter (apps, movies, books, TV shows, etc.)?
- How many Kindles has Amazon sold (or at least what percentage of growth is Kindle showing)?
- How much revenue is Amazon seeing on average from each Kindle owner?
- How much did Amazon spend on content licensing?
- Are Prime memberships growing? And how much revenue do Prime members generate?
- How much is Amazon spending on shipping costs? What’s the outlook for the future?
- How are other segments of Amazon’s business doing (Woot, Zappos, IMDb, LoveFilm, etc.)?
- Why don’t we have more detailed information about AWS growth?
- Seriously, what will you be doing differently to grow the overall business in Q3? (such as expand AmazonFresh into more cities? Produce more original TV shows? etc.)
Pick any five of the above bullet points, and you’d be able to get some sense of how well Amazon is doing. With none of them, you’d pretty much trusting Amazon at its word that things are running smoothly despite missing its earnings guidance for the last three consecutive quarters.