Seeing my first published book, The Rivalry, on (NASDAQ:AMZN) the other day really put a smile on my face. The tale, which is based on my high school basketball escapades, also reveals my Junior Prom date with a girl my friends used to call "The Amazon." I was so nervous that night that my 16-year-old mind made me run to the nearest pay phone and call my dad to save me from the clutches of this towering teenager.

Fast-forwarding to today, I freely shop on the website with no remnants of paranoia over the company's name. I've bought everything from cake mixers to books to sneakers on the popular site and have never paid for shipping costs, thanks to Amazon's Free Super Saver Shipping program. My experiences have always been so positive on the site that I can't imagine my life without the company.

Investors know that Wall Street is totally consumed with earnings; the fine line between missing and beating analysts' expectations typically determines whether a stock will get hammered or pushed up around earnings time. True to form, Amazon's second-quarter earnings missed the consensus forecasts by a penny, which sent the stock down nearly 9% in early trading today. Amazon's now trading at around $41 a share, substantially off its 52-week high of $61.15.

Earnings per share for the second quarter grew to $0.18 a share from a prior-year loss of $0.11 a share (excluding items, that 2003 figure was a profit of $0.10 a share). Sales grew 26% to $1.39 billion. The company said it met its own internal targets, that its revenue and earnings results were in the middle of the expected range, and that operating earnings were actually ahead of its projections.

Amazon has been around nearly 10 years, making it an old-timer in the New Economy. It still produces sales growth in excess of 25% combined with healthy, double-digit earnings increases. There aren't many established companies on Wall Street that can make that claim. Although the company competes with Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) on several of its product lines, its all-in-one concept and free shipping is certainly unique.

The company generated a 45% increase in its free cash flow (to $354 million) on a trailing twelve-month basis, and it continues to plow cash back into the growth of its business. I usually look for industry leaders as prime investment candidates, and despite Amazon's one-cent shortfall, I still see the company as a tremendous long-term investment. David Gardner likely agrees with me, as he named a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick in the October 2002 issue. The stock's returned 173% since then compared to the S&P 500's 22% gain.

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Fool contributor Phil Wohl spent more than 12 years on Wall Street and now concentrates his writing on more fictional characters. He has no stake in any firm mentioned above.