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Amazon Follows Apple’s Lead with Accounting Rule

July 27, 2010

Amazon is taking a page out of Apple’s book when it comes to recognizing revenue.

When the Seattle-based e-tailer announced its second-quarter earnings last week, it noted that it’s now following an accounting rule that allows it to book revenue for its Kindle e-reader immediately rather than accounting for sales over the average two-year estimated economic life of the device (though hopefully most Kindle users will get longer usage out of the device than that). That rule is Accounting Standards Update 2009-13, for which Amazon has the Financial Accounting Standards Board to thank.

Apple and other tech companies had pushed for the accounting treatment, which has helped Apple book more revenue upfront for its iPhone sales. Now Amazon can do the same with its Kindle, which in turn inspired Apple to develop its iPad, so inspiration certainly works both ways.

Here is Amazon’s explanation of the accounting change:

“In June 2009, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) issued authoritative guidance on the consolidation of variable interest entities. The new guidance requires a qualitative approach to identifying a controlling financial interest in a variable interest entity (“VIE”), and requires ongoing assessment of whether an entity is a VIE and whether an interest in a VIE makes the holder the primary beneficiary of the VIE. We adopted this guidance on January 1, 2010. Adoption did not have a material impact on our consolidated financial statements.”

“On January 1, 2010, we prospectively adopted ASU 2009-13, which amends ASC Topic 605, Revenue Recognition. Under this standard, we allocate revenue in arrangements with multiple deliverables using estimated selling prices if we do not have vendor specific objective evidence or third-party evidence of the selling prices of the deliverables. Estimated selling prices are management’s best estimates of the prices that we would charge our customers if we were to sell the standalone elements separately.”

“Sales of our Kindle e-reader are considered arrangements with multiple deliverables, consisting of the device, wireless access and delivery, and software upgrades. Under the prior accounting standard, we accounted for sales of the Kindle ratably over the average estimated life of the device. Accordingly, revenue and associated product cost of the device through December 31, 2009, were deferred at the time of sale and recognized on a straight-line basis over the two year average estimated economic life.”

“As of January 2010, we account for the sale of the Kindle as three deliverables. The revenue related to the device, which is the substantial portion of the total sale price, and related costs are recognized upon delivery. Revenue related to wireless access and delivery and software upgrades is amortized over the average life of the device, which remains estimated at two years."

“Because we have adopted ASU 2009-13 prospectively, we are recognizing $508 million throughout 2010 and 2011 for revenue previously deferred under the prior accounting standard.”

While that $508 million makes up only a fraction of the $6.57 billion that Amazon reported for its second-quarter sales, the accounting board certainly helped the company book several hundred million a whole lot faster.

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