Don’t look now, but Amazon has become a subscription site.
Over the past two years, Jeff Bezos and team have put a ton of focus on adding perks to Amazon Prime, the company’s $99-a-year subscription offering.
The e-commerce giant has added features like a streaming music service, a line of diapers and baby wipes exclusive to Prime customers, and there are now even plans for Amazon-funded feature films that I’d expect Prime customers will get access to for free.
All of this comes on top of the two-day shipping feature at no extra charge that has made Prime such a hit.
Amazon is doing all of this because Prime members spend somewhere between two and four times more than non-Prime members do, depending on which sorta-scientific third-party study you want to believe. Prime members are gold for Amazon.
But if the company is going to continue to spend big to attract new members to Prime, it may have to do something it hates: Disclose numbers. Specifically, how many Prime members it has.
I know what you’re thinking. Bwahahaha. Fat chance. Bezos don’t do numbers.
And you’re mostly right. Unlike Apple, Amazon never discloses the sales numbers for specific products, like Kindles or Fire phones.
But there are some recent signs that Amazon is inching toward disclosing the Prime number.
In late 2013, it said Prime had “tens of millions” of members. Does that mean 20 million, 50 million (as one analyst believes) or 60 million, as one partner of Amazon recently told me? Not sure.
Then, this holiday season, the company said more than 10 million Amazon shoppers tried out Prime. That number includes the portion of shoppers who will use the 30-day free trial to get free shipping for the holidays, and then cancel before they have to pay. But another sorta-scientific study predicts that about seven million of the 10 million will end up keeping the membership.
These are not-so-subtle hints to investors and competitors alike: Prime is a machine.
So why should Bezos go all in and disclose Prime’s membership numbers? Because it would give Wall Street analysts the ammo they need to continue to recommend Amazon’s stock, even as the company spends billions on risky new projects to boost Prime membership, such as movie production or free, two-hour delivery for Prime members in New York City and more cities in the future.
I know what you’re thinking (again): Bezos doesn’t care about Wall Street investors, analysts or the company’s stock price. He’s operating with a 20-year view, not a quarter-to-quarter view. This is correct.
But Amazon’s employees — especially those who joined around the time Amazon’s stock price was around $400 — do care about the price, which is now at $308. At Amazon, employee shares account for a greater percentage of compensation than at Amazon’s peers. And if Amazon continues to spend heavily on new projects while not letting money drop to the bottom line, investors may more loudly call for specifics on whether those initiatives are boosting Prime membership and how much more Prime members spend. If Amazon balks, the price may very well drop lower, which will certainly affect morale among the newest employees. And Bezos may be forced to care about that.
There’s a bonus to disclosing these numbers: They would scare the hell out of competitors, which Bezos loves.
The move would come with some risks. If the number is below some analyst estimates, that could be a bad thing. Also, once Amazon confirms a Prime membership number, it will be judged by that going forward.
But my spidey-Bezos sense is telling me that Amazon and Bezos have been testing the waters over the past year by releasing some data about Prime in preparation for the full reveal. This may be that year, perhaps coming as soon as Amazon’s fourth-quarter earnings report on Thursday. Analysts are expecting earnings per share of 17 cents on $29.68 billion in revenue. If Amazon reveals its Prime numbers, though, that would steal the show.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.