Silicon Insider: When Did Amazon Get Profitable?

ByABC News
January 29, 2002, 4:52 PM

Jan. 30 -- I was wrong.

It's interesting how muted the response was to the news last week that after six years in business and as the poster child for the dot-com boom and bust finally announced real profits.

Amazon had announced profits before, but they were always a little fishy, leaving off the table little things like stock options and losses on investments. But there was no doubt about the fourth quarter of 2001: Driven by an extraordinary burst in the Christmas shopping season (apparently there was more fear of bombs at Borders than anthrax in Amazon boxes), Amazon finally crossed over into the Land of the Black Numbers.

So why the comparatively dampened coverage of the news? One obvious answer is that we are still in the aftershock of the bursting of the dot-com bubble. After looking at our demolished stock portfolios, we don't want to hear about e-commerce or e-commerce companies.

On top of that, most people who owned Amazon stock two years ago, when it went to more than $100 per share, had bailed out by last spring when it went below $10. Anybody that was left, who hung on for the three month rally that followed, were no doubt driven off on July 24 when the stock fell nearly 20 percent in a single day.

Since then, Amazon's stock price has made a long, slow climb, regaining all that it has lost since that dark summer day. But, except for analysts, nobody has much noticed.

There is a second, more subtle reason for the muted response to the news. It is that the same media that predicted the demise of Amazon are not especially thrilled to see it, Lazarus-like, return from the grave. Rather, we were prepared to write our Death of Amazon lamentation, complete with the ritual headline about how the emblematic company of an emblematic era had emblematically given up the ghost.

Sideways From Books

Why were we in the media so down on Amazon? Well, we weren't at first. Nobody in the word business ever objects to a successful bookselling business certainly not reporters, all of whom secretly dream of that big best seller that finally liberates them from the newsroom. The idea of a delivery system that finally brought the Byzantine world of publishing into the digital age was certainly heady.