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Maven: Amazed by Amazon

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Of all the industry practices of business headline writers specifically designed to put The Business Press Maven into an early grave, perhaps the most effective (I have only one foot above ground this morning) is the legitimacy they give to revenue benchmarks. The business media attach superlatives to these milestone numbers as if they mean more than growth rates or underlying profits and -- hey, what are you doing with that hammer and nails? Let me finish!

Take the headlines written about Monday's Amazon (AMZN) announcement, which in most cases appear to be just that: headlines superimposed on Amazon's announcement. In this holy season, I thank God that at least the stock market, which appropriately sent Amazon's stock down, did not seem to be as fooled as the headline writers were.

Amazon, it goes without saying but I will, has probably gotten more mileage out of issuing these benchmark-number press releases and having the media take them as something substantial than any other company. Tuesday's release was no exception to that rule.

The company said, "'s 12th Holiday Season is Best Ever ."

The wires were soon flooded with regurgitated headlines above stories that were essentially rewrites of the release. But there is only one problem with taking dictation from a company, and it's that you lose any opportunity to draw any accurate, useful or interesting conclusions for investors. Take the Associated Press' coverage; if the AP's headline gives you déjà vu, well, it should: " Has 'Best Ever' Sales in 2006." The subheadline lends undue validity to that benchmark number the company was trafficking in, ignoring for the remainder of the article the interesting aspect of the number: " Says 2006 Holiday Shopping Season Peaks With More Than 4M Orders Placed in One Day."

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