Just Give Us a Number, Amazon.com

Last night should've been it. If there were ever a time for Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) to channel Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , it would've been during last night's poorly received quarterly results.

Net sales growth clocked in softer than analysts were expecting. Margins continue to slide. Its near-term outlook isn't all that encouraging.

How cool would it have been if Amazon had told us that it sold 4.6 million Kindle Fires and another 2.8 million Kindle e-readers? I'm making these numbers up because Amazon doesn't give investors much of a choice.

The only nugget we get is that Kindle sales across all categories during the holiday shopping seasons surged 177%. It's an incomplete figure, naturally. Kindle Fire wasn't around during the 2010 holiday season. We also don't know what that 2010 figure was because it, too, was a general "millions of third-generation Kindles" sold.

Under this kind of cryptic scenario, this is what a conversation would be like with CEO Jeff Bezos at the Amazon commissary.

Bezos: I ate twice as many spring rolls as I did yesterday.

You: Interesting. How many spring rolls did you eat yesterday?

Bezos: A lot.

Apple had no problem letting everyone know that it sold 15.4 million iPads in its latest quarter. Apple's been publicly breaking out its metrics. Even when the numbers may be disappointing -- like iPhone units sold during the previous quarter -- Apple doesn't back away from the information that people need.

Publicly broadcasting its exact unit sales obviously hasn't been a competitive disadvantage. Apple has grown to become the world's most valuable tech company. What is Amazon afraid of?

I'm not suggesting that Amazon has something to hide. It's not like Netflix's decision to stop reporting churn, leading investors to assume that it's simply no longer a flattering number -- even if Netflix suggests that it's just no longer relevant.

Maybe Amazon fears that if it starts cranking out actual units that it will be taken to task if it ever decides to clam up. We would probably all get suspicious if Apple abandoned the process. However, Amazon and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) have spent the past few years bragging about how well they're doing in the e-reader and now entry-level tablet markets.

Barnes & Noble will even go as far as to repeat market share figures, but we have yet to hear an actual number from either company. I can probably understand Barnes & Noble's not being the first to speak up. The moment it does, Amazon can make it look silly by reporting an even bigger number. However, it's time for Amazon to give investors the information they need to better understand the company.

If we had an actual number -- instead of some third-party estimate -- it would be easier to visualize why margins are so crummy. If Amazon sold 5.2 million Kindle Fires at a loss, but it expects to make a mint in digital media sales down the road, let's hear it.

I've been arguing this for years, and I'm not alone.

Come on, Bezos. Out with it! How many spring rolls did you actually eat?

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The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Amazon.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix, Amazon.com, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz calls them as he sees them. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story, except for Netflix. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.


Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2012, at 2:01 PM, leonhart03 wrote:

    Well put!

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2012, at 2:03 PM, titus77 wrote:

    I like this article 40% more than the last article I read.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2012, at 2:12 PM, marv08 wrote:

    "If we had an actual number -- instead of some third-party estimate -- it would be easier to visualize why margins are so crummy."

    While you did write that up very nicely, I do not think it makes much sense...

    Amazon always had poor margins, their business has always been "buying market share" and "destroying small and medium businesses that try to sell something while replacing properly trained and knowledgable sales staff with warehouse workers".

    Now they have added products that are sold at a loss and might create some returns in content sales (as consuming Amazon media is really the only thing they do properly)... A short glance at the content sales figures (outside of Apple's customer base, which buys a lot) reveals that the average consumer might buy 1-2 books and less than 10 tracks per year. The result is, tadaa, a very small profit, if any. I do not need a single sales figure to figure that out.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2012, at 2:15 PM, bugnuts wrote:

    Amazon's press release was the longest laundry list of useless information I've seen in quite some time.

    It gives one the impression - rightly or wrongly - management isn't being forthright.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2012, at 2:18 PM, Thuddd wrote:

    Why should Amazon give their kindle fire numbers? It's not like the market is going to punish them for this omission.

    I predict that the Motley Fool will publish 2-5 Amazon Atta-boy stories a week, no matter how obtuse the company's behavior or how laughable their earnings numbers are, relative to their valuation.

    Amazon's price will rise again, with accolades from all, especially the Fool. Amazing.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2012, at 3:04 PM, PhulishMortal wrote:

    Bezos: I ate twice as many spring rolls as I did yesterday.

    You: Interesting. How many spring rolls did you eat yesterday?

    Bezos: A lot.

    I laughed out loud in my office at that.

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2012, at 3:19 PM, lucasmonger wrote:

    My guess is that the number is lower than the 4-6M units that analysts are guessing. If the numbers were anywhere near good, Amazon should have reported them, but imagine what the stock drop would have been if they said they sold 1-2M?

  • Report this Comment On February 01, 2012, at 3:26 PM, EGTalbot wrote:

    Thudd is right - Amazon absolutely doesn't care. Lack of numbers isn't going to hurt them. Yeah, I'd love to see the numbers too.

    Amazon considers numbers of any sort to be proprietary data it can mine to further maximize how sticky it can make customers. Use of data to get more retail customers buying more is something Amazon does better than any company on the planet.

    They aren't going to share those numbers, even if we think withholding them doesn't provide any advantage. All data potentially has value, and Amazon won't give it away for free unless it is forced to or they see a specific advantage in doing so.

    Disclosure - I have no equity positions in Amazon, but I do generate income from selling through them.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2012, at 11:37 AM, qazey wrote:

    I think that will put to much of a focus on short term.

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