Amazon Prime is in some ways is similar to Costco’s membership fees. Costco make the vast majority of their profit on membership fees and largely breaks even otherwise.
Amazon reported earning that were once again very short on earnings given how successful the company has been. Net income increased to $239 million for the 4th quarter (which is by far Amazon’s most profitable quarter since it includes the Christmas buying season) from $97 million last year.
Amazon Prime costs $79 a year (in the USA) and provides free 2 day shipping and access to their streaming video content. Amazon doesn’t disclose the numbers of prime members (that I can find anyway) but educated guesses seem to say 20 million (or more). That would be $1.6 billion a year.
Amazon’s net income for the full year was $274 million. Fees for Prime customers were $1.6 billion (at 20 million members). Amazon is considering raising the Prime price to $99 or $129 a year (25-50%).
While not directly comparable to Costco it is similar. Both are running much of their business just to break even (or at a loss) and Costco manages to take membership fees as profit (along with a very tiny profit on everything else) while Amazon doesn’t even come close to running the rest of their business at break even.
Now you can look at the two fees and say it isn’t the same. Amazon has to pay for shipping on each of the purchases etc. Still it is an odd strategy of charing customers an annual fee and then providing them services almost like a co-op that runs at break even for members.
I really like lots of what Jeff Bezos does. He goes even farther than I do at prioritizing long term benefit over current profit. I can’t think of any other leader that does that and he isn’t really close to me in how far he goes.
Beyond that long term thinking he is much more sensible about financial figures than the extremely over simplified (and even often just wrong) ideas spouted by other CEOs and CFOs. The quarterly report release form the company starts with:
Bezos understand (and makes sure that the company explains) that operating cash flow is a much better measure in many ways than earnings. Bezos is willing to take many actions to bolster long term gains which often hurt current earnings (and also cash flow though he is less willing to drastically undermine cash flow).
Reading reports from Amazon over the years you get the feeling of reading reports from Warren Buffett. The thinking behind the reports both make is very rare among the rest of the senior leadership of our large corporation (who sadly take huge paychecks while providing mediocre leadership or often worse than mediocre).
I love the prospects for Amazon, as a company. I continue to be frustrated by the price of the stock – it is priced so highly it is difficult for me to justify buying. I do hold it in my paper sleep well portfolio, but I am definitely worried about the price. But I see very little else nearly as compelling and on balance find it an attractive, though risky, investment. I see Apple as an extremely good buy at these prices. I see Google more similar to Amazon – very nice prospects but also a very richly priced stock (though I think much more reasonably priced, all things considered, than Amazon).