Just Give Us a Number, Amazon.com


Last night should've been it. If there were ever a time for Amazon.com (NAS: AMZN) to channel Apple (NAS: 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 (NYS: 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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At the time thisarticle was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Amazon.com.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Netflix, Amazon.com, and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure 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 theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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