Jeff Bezos seems like a nice enough guy, but maybe the time has come for him to admit that the business he started is a pretty unattractive pig, as far as investors are concerned. Oh wait, I'm sorry, he's busy building rockets with his vast personal fortune -- the value of which far exceeds the retained earnings produced by Amazon over its entire history. (Go ahead. Check the numbers. We can wait.)

You wags out there might think a guy who wants to send people to outer space might first try conquering what ought to be a simpler goal. Like, for example, creating an Internet retailer with true scale, leverage, and reliable, growing cash flows. Perhaps that's too tall an order.

Yes, (NASDAQ:AMZN) reported the same old song and dance yesterday afternoon, with sales way up but costs rising even more quickly. That spells lower profits and lower cash flows, which have long been punishing investors who believed the Internet retail "scale" fairy tale.

That leaves you holding a bag that contains a retailer with decreasing free cash flows that's already trading at 30 times that figure.

And keep in mind: This curdled cream is, nonetheless, the cream of the crop. How do you think a tail-dragger like (NASDAQ:OSTK) is going to fare in this environment?

The tale is in the tape, folks. Internet retailing is not the slam-dunk the futurists of 2000 all claimed it would be. Turns out, anyone can play this game, thanks to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO). That means Amazon is stuck competing on price, investing in a technology race, and giving away free shipping. And that means it expects operating profits next year in a range from a 9% decline to 30% growth.

Guess those good ol' boys at Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Target (NYSE:TGT), and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) may be on to something, convincing their customers to pay to get their own stuff to their houses by (gasp) driving their cars to the store.

Comments? Bring them here.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Best Buy,, and Yahoo! are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Wal-Mart is an Inside Value pick. Overstock was once a Rule Breakers selection. Fool rules are here.