Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why Has Amazon Blacked Out Its 2012 Shareholder Meeting Presentation?

Granted, Amazon is not renowned for transparency. Quite the opposite. In some regards, I'm okay with that.  I respect that a business with grand growth ambitions might want to hold its strategy cards close to the vest. Jeff Bezos and crew have an outstanding track record of keeping new initiatives under wraps until they're ready to launch. And they notch up more victories than losses with these schemes. I imagine the practice helps keep the teams focused while giving Amazon the upper hand - keeping competitors in the dark - when they bring new stuff into the market. 

But the stinginess with information can be frustrating, too, for those eager to understand Amazon.

In those rare moments when Bezos decides to make public pronouncements, he can be surprisingly forthcoming. I relish the opportunity to learn from each sit-down he has with Charlie Rose; each Q&A with Steven Levy

But the best resource has been the presentation and webcast of each annual meeting of shareholders. Each year Bezos waxes philosophic on the business of Amazon, providing nuggets of insight into what he considers the most important traits, the biggest challenges, the guiding initiatives. In the 2011 question and answer session, he provided a brilliant response to a question from shareholder Evan Jacobs (transcribed by GeekWire and posted here), speaking eloquently on what it means to be misunderstood.

Those presentations have been made available each year on Amazon's investor relations website. But not so this year, even six weeks after the meeting and despite direct requests of Amazon's IR staff to make them available. We've been blacked out!

This is troubling even to someone (like me) who has a high degree of tolerance for Amazon's silence. I suppose (though am not positive) that providing meeting transcripts of shareholder meetings is left to the company's discretion and whim, not an SEC requirement. Still, as a public company, we have reasonable expectations that important information about the business that is made available to a few shareholders (those able to attend the meeting) be available to all shareholders. 

What information I've been able to gather has come from bloggers and reporters attending the meeting or monitoring it from outside (see this GeekWire coverage, this from the Seattle Times, and this from Xconomy). It seems like a tumultuous meeting at which protesters were eager for attention and willing to disrupt the proceedings. Police were there to escort disruptive and unruly activists out of the meeting. Curt Woodward of Xconomy described the CEO thusly: 
From his place at center stage, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos seemed to watch the antics as if an alien species had landed in the room.
He stood onstage, head cocked to the side, as the made-for-news-media spectacle unfolded. Once the noise died down, Bezos made sure he got the last word: “l’d like to thank all of you for coming, and we’ll see you next year.”
I suppose there were embarrassing moments. I imagine the Q&A is far less interesting when you have rabble rousers seeking attention for their agendas rather than shareholders picking the great brain of Bezos. Be assured, as Amazon becomes more dominant in its respective markets, this attention will only grow. You can't shy away from basic communication just because others are leaching off your megaphone. 

The presentation was intended for the consumption of shareholders. Amazon has made a habit of sharing it in the past. And they should make it available this year, too.