Amazon’s Incredible Money-Losing Business Strategy, In One Chart

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 25 2013 5:31 PM

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Is Like King Midas in Reverse

Actually, Amazon basically doesn't make money at all.
Actually, Amazon basically doesn't make money at all.

Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP/GettyImages

It’s become a quarterly ritual: Amazon reports that it’s losing money, and its investors cheer and hand over more. Pundits shake their heads in wonder. And Amazon’s competitors tremble in existential terror.

My colleague Matt Yglesias once half-joked that the company amounts to “a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers.” Bezos denied this, insisting that the interests of Amazon customers and shareholders will align in the long run. One thing nearly everyone agrees on, though: Amazon’s ridiculously low margins cannot be good for its rivals in the retail sector, who aren’t blessed with the same license from investors to lose money quarter after quarter.

Advertisement

I don’t have a lot to add to what Yglesias has already said about the company, except to point out that yet another quarterly earnings report shows Amazon increasing its revenue while failing (or, more accurately, refusing) to make any profit whatsoever. This time it posted $17 billion in net sales, reported a net loss of $41 million, and saw its stock leap nearly 10 percent.

What I can add is this rather mind-boggling chart from the statistics portal Statista.com, which drives home Amazon’s uncanny ability to avoid making money in the clearest form I’ve ever seen. Jeff Bezos is like King Midas in reverse: All the gold he touches turns to something else.

Amazon revenue profits chart

Illustration courtesy of Statista.com

In all seriousness, it must take incredible skill to keep spending every dollar you take in, quarter after quarter, even as your revenues grow by leaps and bounds. This past quarter, the company managed to pull it off by blowing hundreds of millions on a techno-utopian campus, continuing to lose money on its terrible investment in LivingSocial, and hiring an incredible 12,800 new employees in just three months. Its headcount now exceeds that of Microsoft.

This coming quarter will pose perhaps the company’s biggest challenge yet, as Amazon is almost sure to see its revenue leap to a new all-time high over the holidays. But I, for one, have confidence that Bezos will find a way to spend every last dime. The man is a true master of not making money.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.