Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) couldn’t be more different. The strategies behind the companies are essentially opposites. Some have called Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos crazy in the past, and some are even saying it now after the announcement Monday that he was buying The Washington Post Company (NYSE:WAPO).
But MG Siegler of TechCrunch says there must be a method to Bezos’ madness. He says it’s all about not showing his cards too early in the game.
Apple vs. Amazon in gross margins
One of the biggest differences between Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s strategy is the high gross margins. Margins are one of the biggest measurements used to determine the company’s success. Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), on the other hand, has just the slimmest of margins, and The Washington Post Company (NYSE:WAPO) is likely going to end up being the same way thanks to the challenges being faced by the newspaper industry right now.
Of course Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) was once the darling of Wall Street, and now many of the company’s prior bulls have morphed into bears. Amazon though, is flourishing—in spite of the thin margins. Meanwhile Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is floundering as investors question whether the company will again be able to change the tech world with another invention.
Apple made a profit too early?
Siegler believes that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s big problem is that it made too large of a profit too early. He said Bezos’ strategy with Amazon has been to “lay the groundwork for an ever-larger business.” He said occasionally Amazon does have to show investors that it’s winning, but the rest of the time, the company is working behind the scenes to build something that’s bigger and bigger.
In fact, Amazon’s profits haven’t yet amounted to much, while Apple has been piling up the cash. However, investors overwhelmingly have awarded Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) for this because they know where those profits are going. Bezos is using them to invest in infrastructure and keep building the business.
What cash flow says about Amazon
Instead of being based on gross margins, Amazon’s business model is largely based on cash flow. Siegler points to comments from a former employee of the company who noted that most Amazon customers pay by credit card, by Amazon doesn’t pay most distributors or publishers for 90 days after they buy those books. This creates a negative operating cycle as the company turns its inventory over 30 or 40 times per year. However, this business model enables Amazon to continue making money even if it has a zero margin.
So what’s Bezos up to with his purchase of The Washington Post Co.? It will be awhile before we know because he’s not going to show his hand too early. But part of it may be just because he’s intrigued by the business and he can afford to invest where he likes. Earlier this year it was announced that he made a sizeable investment in the online publication Business Insider. Clearly he’s got some interest in the publishing sector, and he won’t be stepping out on this journey with the Post on his own. He’s got plenty of contacts in the publishing industry who can help him along the way even though he’s never had this type of business before.