With ebook sales up 70% in 2012, Bezos says Amazon has hit “transition” it was waiting for

Laura Hazard Owen
January 29, 2013

Amazon announced fourth-quartere earnings slightly below investor expectations Tuesday afternoon — but operating income, widely viewed by investors as a measure of the company’s overall health, rose, driving shares up in after-hours trading.

Profits for the quarter were $97 million, or $0.21 per share, on revenues of $21.27 million — compared to profits of $177 million on revenues of $17.43 billion a year ago. Operating income rose 45 percent to $405 million.

In the release, CEO Jeff Bezos called out ebooks in particular: “We’re now seeing the transition we’ve been expecting. After five years, ebooks is a multi-billion dollar category for us and growing fast — up approximately 70 percent last year. In contrast, our physical book sales experienced the lowest December growth rate in our 17 years as a book seller, up just 5 percent.” The company didn’t share actual ebook numbers, but North American media revenues were $2.9 billion for the quarter and $9.19 billion for the year — up 13 percent and 15 percent, respectively, over 2011.

As usual, Amazon did not disclose Kindle device sales. The company released new Kindle Fire tablets and the Paperwhite e-reader in September 2012. The earnings release noted that Kindle Fire HD is still “the #1 best-selling, most gifted, and most wished for product” on the site, but didn’t tout any specific holiday sales nuggets the way it did in 2011.

For the full year, revenue was $61.09 billion, up 27 percent from 2011. Operating income fell for the full year to $676 million, from $862 million in 2011. The company saw a net loss of $39 million compared to net income of $631 million the previous year.

For the first quarter of 2013, the company told investors to expect revenues between $15 billion and $16.6 billion, with guidance on operating income ranging from -$285 million to $65 million.

Amazon is holding an investor call at 2 p.m. PT, and we will be on the call.

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