December 2, 2014 / 8:53 PM / 3 years ago

Bezos defends Amazon's lack of profits, stance on publishers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com Inc, was unapologetic about his twenty-year-old company’s lack of profit during a rare public appearance on Tuesday, noting he spends just six hours a year on investor relations.

Amazon President, Chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the Business Insider's "Ignition Future of Digital" conference in New York City December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Bezos also discussed Amazon’s acrimonious dispute with publisher Hachette Book Group and his purchase of the Washington Post. He acknowledged that Amazon had a succession plan in place, but remained tight-lipped about the details.

His comments come a day after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its outlook on Amazon to “negative,” citing the company’s upcoming debt offering and the “lack of visibility” about how the funds would be deployed.

Investors have grown increasingly unhappy about Amazon’s spending and lack of disclosure about future plans. Its shares have fallen more than 18 percent this year, despite a 14 percent rise in the Nasdaq.

Bezos, relaxed in jeans and a gray jacket, defended Amazon’s culture as one willing to spend on new projects, even if they flop like its poor-selling Fire phone.

“We are a large company, but we are also still a start-up. There is a lot of volatility in start-ups,” Bezos said at a conference organized by the Business Insider blog in New York.

Bezos, an investor in Business Insider, defended Amazon’s approach during its drawn-out contract dispute with Hachette, which came to light after Amazon delayed deliveries and removed pre-order options for several Hachette titles. The dispute was settled in November.

Publishers are in better shape because of e-books, which became popular after Amazon launched the Kindle e-reader in 2007, he said, adding that books are still too expensive.

“It’s difficult for incumbents who have a sweet thing to embrace change,” Bezos said. “Making reading more affordable is not going to make authors less money. ... It’s going to make authors more money.”

Bezos entered another embattled industry last year when he bought the Washington Post from the Graham family. He was initially surprised when approached about the sale, but said Don Graham convinced him. He plans to turn the Post into a national and international newspaper.

Bezos, 50, also acknowledged that there is a succession plan in place for him and his executives. When asked to reveal the next generation of leadership, he said: “It’s a secret.”

Reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York.; Additional reporting by Deepa Seetharaman in San Francisco. Editing by Andre Grenon

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