Amazon CFO Dodges Questions On Antitrust, Patents, Kindle Plans

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Amazon just wrapped up its earnings call for the first quarter of the year, and the most common phrase may have been, “I probably can’t help you.”

To be fair, earnings calls are always a dance, where analysts try to pry more financial details and future plans out of executives, while executives don’t want to give anything away. But today’s call felt like a particularly egregious example — anytime anything interesting was asked, CFO Tom Szkutak would say he couldn’t help, then maybe offer an extremely vague answer.

For example, when someone asked him about how the recent antitrust case against Apple and publishers might change the pricing model for e-books, Szkutak said, “Yeah, there’s not a lot I can help you with there.” Then he repeated Amazon’s company line on the case, “We do think that the suit was big win for Kindle owners. We look forward to being allowed to lower prices for more Kindle books.”

Amazon still isn’t releasing any specific sales numbers for Kindle devices, either. Szkutak only said that the company is “pleased with the growth” in sales of the Kindle Fire and that Fire owners are “buying a lot of content,” which is reflected in the growth of North American media sales.

Another analyst asked how Amazon was looking at intellectual property issues now that it’s getting into the hardware business. Might the company buy up any patents?

“I don’t think there’s a lot that I can help you with there,” Szkutak said, later adding, “We have a great technical team that’s working on a lot of interesting areas.”

There was also a question about the ad-supported Kindle Fire. Any plans to release more ad-supported devices? “You have to stay tuned on that.” Someone else asked when we might see the Kindle Fire become available internationally. Szkutak’s answer? You guessed it: “You know, I really can’t help you. … Stay tuned.”