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transparent

Once upon a time, movies cost crazy amounts of money to make… which reserved their creation for huge studios with equally large budgets. Now we live in an age where high definition cameras are in the palms of our hands and the bottoms of our pockets. Using computers for special effects is faster and easier than ever before. Post-production takes a fraction of the time it used to. So what does all of this mean? Companies like Amazon have the opportunity and the option of producing their own feature films.

After winning a Golden Globe for their dark comedy television series Transparent, Amazon has announced their intentions to produce indie style movies with budgets between $5 million and $25 million (in addition to more work on television series, including a second season of Transparent and something brand new from filmmaker Woody Allen).

Amazon’s original movies are intended for theatrical release, though they will also see early distribution on their Prime Instant Video service (proving membership really does have its privileges).

Original content is one thing that sets streaming services apart. Netflix has long since offered their own content unavailable anywhere else, which means Amazon has to make the same move in an effort to be competitive. To this end, it’s important that Amazon doesn’t cause people to equate smaller budgets with a lower quality entertainment.

Does original content help you decide on what streaming services you subscribe to? Who do you think is doing it best?

Categories : Android News
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Jan
19

Amazon Faces Tax Woes in EU

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Book and retail giant Amazon has come under fire over the years for its taxes, or more accurately, its failure to pay taxes that critics felt were long overdue. Whether in the US or abroad, the company has been able to take advantage of current tax law to its own interests, a fact that lawmakers literally around the world have been trying to fight.

In the US, a wave of “Amazon Tax” legislation was proposed in most states in an attempt to overturn a 1992 US Supreme Court decision that determined that (then) mail order companies didn’t face the insurmountable headache of trying to collect and report sales tax in every state, as each state sets its own sales tax percentage. Instead, the ruling stated that companies who conducted business via shipping goods to customers would only be required to collect sales tax in the state where the company was located. That became a sticking point for Amazon when states with distribution centers decided that physical location applied as a “location” for taxation. A number of states sued Amazon for back taxes and proposed legislative changes to combat the issue.

In the EU, Amazon has been criticized for its apparent tax-dodging by setting up operation in Luxembourg, a country known to be a haven for foreign corporations which include Google, Starbucks, and many more. The reason for the Grand Duchy address is to take advantage of the lowest tax rate in the EU, something which has local sellers through the Union upset, with claims that they cannot compete as they don’t have the opportunity to move their headquarters to Luxembourg.

While Amazon has always operated in legal compliance with these tax laws, an EU investigation launched in October 2014 will determine if there was anything amiss in the way that the retailer has setup operations. There have been recent allegations that claim Amazon has worked out a deal to receive what amounts to “state aid” from the government, which the investigation sought to uncover.

According to an article for Scotsman.com, “Crawford Spence, of Warwick Business School, who researches tax avoidance, said he felt Amazon’s tax deal in Luxembourg amounts to state aid.

“Professor Spence said: ‘The issue of whether Amazon’s deal with Luxembourg was a ‘sweetheart’ one constituting state aid seems to deflect attention from the main issue here: namely, that Luxembourg has long operated as a de facto tax haven within the internal market, effectively depriving other EU governments, and the EU in general, of significant tax revenues.

“’There is a simple way to put an end to these sorts of scandals: harmonise tax rules across EU member states.’”

Interestingly, this suggestion is one that Amazon has held up publicly for some time. The company has stated repeatedly that it will comply with any unified changes to tax structures and laws both in the US and abroad, but that it will not engage in single-player politics or measures that require the company to create a different tax structure in every location where it conducts business. So long as the law allows corporations to operate under these strictures, Amazon remains in compliance and will continue its operations as such.

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Amazon had a banner year in 2014 with over two billion items shipped worldwide by 3rd party sellers. This is a staggering number, considering there are only two million registered vendors who use the service.

3rd party sellers accounted for over 40% of all items sold on Amazon over 2014. Products such as books, movies and trading cards were shipped from 100 different countries around the world fulfilled orders to customers in 185 countries.

The e-tailer proclaimed that the largest growth was primarily due to China and Hong Kong-based sellers whose international sales grew 80% year-over-year.

One of the ways sellers have been able to crank up the volume orders on Amazon is due to the Amazon Seller App. It is available for Android, iOS and Fire phone, and makes it easier for sellers on Amazon to quickly manage inventory, source and list new items, and quickly respond to customer inquiries.

It’s been a record-setting year for selling on Amazon. We’re seeing strong growth from sellers listing their items across our global marketplaces. In fact, there are now more than a billion offers for customers to browse from sellers who are listing items for sale outside their home country,” said Peter Faricy, VP for Amazon Marketplace. “The growth of mobile and the introduction of the Amazon Seller App have also been a big win for sellers this year. Sellers are constantly telling us they value the flexibility of managing their businesses on-the-go from their tablets and mobile devices.”

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Amazon had a very productive year and managed to keep themselves in the news with ton of product releases and business maneuverings. Today, we take a look back at the 10 most notable things Amazon did in 2014.

Amazon Buys Twitch

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Amazon acquired the video-game streaming site Twitch Interactive Inc. in August for $970 million. The company doesn’t make a lot of acquisitions, so one of this size was notable. The video streaming service will complement Amazon’s Prime Music streaming service, which is part of its Amazon TV system. Already Twitch culture has changed since Amazon bought it, when partial nudity is no longer allowed.

Send in the Drones – Meet Amazon Air Prime

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Amazon took over the blogosphere by storm when it announced their futuristic Prime Air program. It promises a quad helicopter will drop off your package 30 minutes after ordering it. Amazon wants to get it running in the next few years but FAA restrictions are not making it easy.

Fire TV

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In April Amazon announced Fire TV which allows you to install apps and watch Amazon-produced content on their TVs. It is similar to Apple TV and Roku, except it has more of an emphasis on playing games.

The main Fire TV unit came with a remote and optional game controller. At the tail end of 2014 the company unveiled the Fire Stick, which is an alternative to the Google Chromecast.

The Golden Globes

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Amazon produced “Transparent” receives two Golden Globe nominations. The success of the show marks Amazon’s real entrance into the competitive online television network. The show is available via Amazon Prime, which Amazon mentioned got 10 million new members during the holiday season.

Kindle Voyage

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The Kindle Voyage is widely considered the best e-reader ever made. It has the highest resolution e-paper screen in the world and the PPI is unparalleled. It has buttons built into the bezel, an ambient light sensor and employs a new hybrid magnesium alloy. This not only makes the e-reader lighter than previous iterations, but prevents scuffs and fingerprints. Family Sharing allows you to share purchases with your friends and family.

Fire Phone Flops

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Amazon admitted that their first ever smartphone was a flop, but that is not going to dissuade them from releasing more in the future. The phone suffered from a very high price and exclusivity with AT&T when it first launched. Its fairy cheap now and the unlocked version has fallen from its $699 launch price.

AWS Lowers its Price

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Amazons cloud computing network powers Netflix and other major companies all over the world.  They cut their data transfer rates by 43% starting in December 2014, which is halving many startups bills that can’t afford their own server farms.  The reduction in price was made to help combat competition from Microsoft, Google and the giant VMware, not to mention the hundreds of cloud companies sprouting up around the world.

Hachette Dispute Dominated the headlines

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Amazon and major publisher Hachette were locked in a six month long contract dispute which polarized the entire publishing industry. Never before have we seen pop culture and various author groups lambaste Amazon as being a money grabbing empire, who is bad for authors.

Kindle Unlimited Launches

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Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, the ebook and audiobook subscription service that lets members pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited access to its catalog, went live during the summer. It offers users a thirty day free trial and the option to pay $9.99 a month for the service.  There are over 700,000 e-Book and audiobook titles available. Major publishers have yet to embrace the platform and the vast majority of titles are from indie authors who publish on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing. This service has been in the news in the last few months as  many authors are seeing a huge decline in sales.

Construction

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Amazon added nearly 4 million square feet of office space in Seattle in 2014. The company is constructing two 38-story high-rise buildings and a five-story “bubble” building in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. It is on track to have enough space for more than 71,000 employees in the city in the next five years.


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Amazon Fire TV has been getting pretty good reviews from users and critics alike, but a few things have been missing… most noteably (for many) is the absence of HBO Go. Thankfully this has been remedied and HBO subscribers can stream their favourite content from the network’s movies and TV catalog on the Fire TV (though the Fire TV Stick won’t have suppose until the spring of 2015).

Amazon was eager to release a statement regarding their HBO Go addition:

“We’re thrilled to add HBO Go, the most requested service, to Fire TV in time for the holidays. HBO has produced some of the most groundbreaking and award-winning TV shows and movies, and we are excited to bring this amazing content to our customers, all of which is accessible via voice search on your Fire TV remote.

If you are a subscriber, you can still access HBO Go for Android if you haven’t grabbed yourself an Amazon Fire TV just yet (of course, if you have been meaning to, now is a good time –Amazon has reduced the price from $99 to $79 until December 28).

Does this announcement make you more likely to pick up a Fire TV device? Is there something that Amazon is still missing?

Categories : Android News
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In September, Amazon updated their Android app such that it was actually a completely functional app store. Flash forward to today, and it appears Google has made Amazon’s signature application un-findable using search in the Play Store (though the Amazon direct link does seem to work, for now).

There is a new app in its stead (we presume) called Amazon Shopping that looks pretty much like the old app did, minus the App Store bit.

The moral of the story, is that it appears as if Google wasn’t thrilled with Amazon making their digital catalog available for sale in this manner. When asked for a comment, Amazon noted:

“We launched a new Amazon App for Android Phones on September 9 that provides an award-winning mobile shopping experience, enables customers to discover and purchase all of Amazon’s digital catalog, and provides customers access to the Prime Instant Video player and unlimited streaming of over 40,000 movies and TV episodes. Google subsequently changed their Developer Distribution Agreement on September 25. As a result, we removed the app from Google Play and published the Amazon Shopping app. Customers who want the best Amazon experience on their Android phone, including access to Prime Instant Video and Amazon’s entire digital catalog, can still get the Amazon App for Android Phones at amazon.com/androidapp.”

Of course, the question that begs asking is if Amazon didn’t think it was doing anything sneaky or against the rules… why did they keep it so hidden?

Google hasn’t responded with a comment so far, but it has to be making Android fanatics a little nervous… the search giant seems to be locking things down in a way that labels them more like the thing they hate the most (Apple).

Categories : Android News
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In many ways, Netflix has enjoyed being the de facto standard in the video streaming game –but that is all starting to change. Other services are gaining ground, particularly Amazon, and especially with their plans for a free video service (where currently you must have a $99/year Prime membership).

Some of you might recall that this isn’t the first time that the rumour has circulated stating Amazon is readying a free video service, but they aren’t denying it anymore (at least not exactly). When asked for a comment, Amazon spokesperson Sally Fouts stated:

“We currently offer the first episode of some television shows free with ads through our First Episode Free feature on Amazon Instant Video, and there are display ads on some short videos such as movie and game trailers. We’re often experimenting with new offers and experiences for customers, but we have not announced any plans to offer an ad-supported video streaming service.”

Expanding upon the ad-supported service that currently offers the first episode of certain TV shows makes sense, offering Amazon a means by which to expand their advertising network (known as the Amazon Media Group and operating across all of their properties: Amazon.com, Quidsy, Imdb.com, and DPReview). A larger video streaming service would also help encourage brand loyalty, making sales of their devices more attractive for would-be consumers.

For some, choosing a video streaming service comes down to pricing; others won’t (can’t) stray from their first choice because of the growing library of original content being produced (any other Netflix subscribers completely addicted to House of Cards?).

Categories : Android News
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When Jeff Bezos purchased the Washington Post last year for $250 million, many people were wondering what role it would play on the Amazon ecosystem. There is a new Post app exclusively available on the Kindle Fire line of tablets. Users will get access to two editions per day which the editorial team for The Washington Post will release at 5 am ET and 5 pm ET.

The new app, with pre-loaded stories, pictures and even advertisements, was designed in close collaboration with Mr. Bezos, said Shailesh Prakash, The Post’s chief technology officer. “We talked to him constantly,” Mr. Prakash said, describing feedback Mr. Bezos gave to developers. “He’s our most active beta tester.”

The Washington Post app has been developed to replicate the experience of reading the paper as if it was in print, the “pinch view” feature in this app attempts to replicate that experience.

The app will be free for Kindle Fire owners for six months, and will then cost a dollar for the next six months. A version of the app will be available for Android and iOS operating systems next year, at $3.99 a month.

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blloon

Some of us are already so hooked on reading that we can’t imagine our lives without at least a few books on the go; believe it or not, others need a little extra motivation to flip those pages (literally or digitally). Fortunately a Berlin-based startup has a great idea: gamification. By following a freemium-based model, Blloon is an app that promises to engage readers with e-books (particularly those aged between 18 and 28).

With a welcome gift of 1000 free pages when a user signs up, getting started is easy! From there, earning additional free pages can be accomplished by sharing books and writing reviews (among other tasks). Of course, you can always just avoid any of the hassle and pay for additional content (with top-ups and monthly premium memberships ranging from €1.29-€6.99 that deliver 100-1,000 extra pages).

Blloon features a user interface designed to have appeal for young people, making it easy for casual readers to use the app. Other features offer similar appeal, like those described by founder Thomas Leliveld:

“We’re creating and frequently updating Readlists to reflect the lives of our users in specific moments or moods, for example ‘Make me Laugh’, ‘Single Life’ or ‘The London Film Festival’. In the future we see it feasible that members of Blloon can create, rate and share these Readlists and earn pages upon creating the most loved Readlists. This is similar to what exists in some music services (playlists). According to recent studies, the younger generation believes firmly that eBooks are too expensive. Blloon addressed that by allowing the users to read free. Secondly, young people aren’t yet engaged with eBooks and we want them to be. They read frequently on their phones and tablets, we know this, but they haven’t yet found a platform that engages with them fits their lifestyle better.”

At first glance, it would appear the Blloon competes directly with other existing services like Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Leliveld asserts that this isn’t the case: while it may be true that the concept is similar, Blloon is trying to keep costs low by not offering more than their target audience needs.

Many publishers are already on board with Blloon, including: Allen & Unwin, Diversion Books, Faber Factory, Guardian Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lonely Planet, Open Road Media, Profile, RosettaBooks and Workman Publishing (with others already being planned an negotiated).

Unfortunately, Blloon is only available for the iPhone and iPad in the UK right now, but there are plans for a US release in time for Christmas –followed by a full international rollout. There is no specific news regarding an Android version of the app, but it seems likely that one will be available in due time.

Categories : Android News
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Black Friday is two weeks away and the holiday season is quickly approaching. Amazon is bringing back a program that will allow you to try a Kindle e-Reader or Fire Tablet for free for one month. At the end of the 30 days if you do not return it, they will bill your credit card for the full purchase price, send it back before the month is over and no worries.

The latest generation Kindle Voyage and Kindle Basic Touch are not apart of this promotion. Instead, they are letting customers try the second generation Kindle Paperwhite and two tablets they released last year. Likely, this promotion is a gambit to try and get rid of older stock because the newer devices are proving to be popular.

This promotion is only valid for select Prime members in the US, international customers need not apply. You need a valid credit card as your 1 Click Purchase and you have to make sure it does not expire beyond the 30 days.

Categories : e-reader, e-Reader News
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Amazon has offered samples of eBooks since they started selling them. It gives readers an idea on what to expect when you buy the retail edition by giving you a chapter or two to read for free. In the first time in years, Amazon has just updated the way it handles Kindle eBook samples.

Samples that you download from the Kindle book store will now be saved in the cloud so that you can access and read them on any supported Amazon device or Kindle reading app.  If you don’t want the sample anymore you can simply delete your samples from the cloud on any supported devices or Kindle reading apps, or from Manage Your Content and Devices.

Not all Amazon devices can handle the new way samples are delivered. The ones that are compatible are Fire HDX, Fire HD, Kindle Fire HDX, Kindle Fire HD (2nd Generation), Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite (2nd Generation), Kindle (7th Generation), Fire phone, Kindle for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch version 4.5 or greater, and Kindle for Android version 4.7 or greater.

One of the big problems with eBook samples in general, is you don’t really get a feel for what the book is about. After you make it through the table of contents, forward and any obligatory publisher information, you barely get chapter one. I have actually downloaded samples that had the first two pages of chapter one, because there was so much filler at the beginning.

Categories : E-Book News
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A former advertising executive for Kindle is suing Amazon for wrongful dismissal. The saga begins in 2012 with the launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet. Amazon was seeking launch partners in order to build traction with their Special Offers edition. Credit card company Discover signed on, as they normally participated with pilot projects at Amazon. Then things got interesting.

In a signed affidavit to the Washington Attorney office, former executive Kivin Varghese outlined the following “Shortly after the successful launch of the ad platform in September 2012, we ran into an issue with one of our large launch partners, Discover Card. In addition to paying $1.2 million to be part of the launch, we ran a promotion where they paid an extra $500,000 that was intended to encourage Kindle owners with a Discover card, to switch their default 1-click card to Discover (ahead of the holiday shopping season).

The promotion was structured in a way where anyone with a Kindle, who used their Discover card to buy a digital good (e.g. mp3 or movie), would get a $10 Amazon Gift Card. The reason the good had to be digital is because to buy a digital good you need to use your 1-click default card, and Discover’s primary objective for this promotion was to get users who had a Discover card, to make it their 1-click default so Discover could be the card of choice for holiday shopping over the course of the fourth quarter. That was the only way Discover could justify spending $10 when someone ordered a $1 .mp3 music file.

The finance team and the ad execution team (who reported to my manager via a Product Manager) put together a forecast for Discover that showed we expected the $500K to last for the full 60 days of the promotion, and it had a wide ranging buffer, so we would monitor it weekly. I was not allowed to see the data that went into the forecast – only the finance team putting together the forecast was allowed to see that data – I and others were just provided a range.

About 10 days into the promotion, the Ad Execution team found that over $300,000 of the $500,000 allocated for the promotion had been spent. I had our development team look into the data to find out how this could happen – Was it fraud? Was it a bug?

What we found was that there were tens of thousands of Kindle e-ink owners, the vast majority who hadn’t even seen the promotion details (as customers had to click on the ad to see the details), were qualifying for the $10 Gift card because every day, there are thousands of customers who own a Kindle and already have Discover set as their 1-click default card, that buy a digital good on Amazon in the ordinary course of their activity. As soon as we found this out, I sent out a 7-step solution that I recommended we implement to fix the issue, which involved being transparent with Discover about the issue and refunding a significant portion of the promotional funds that went to subsidized behavior. Munira disagreed with my approach, directing me to spin this as ‘good news, that the promotion is tracking ahead of plan’ and urged me to try to get more budget from Discover. Meanwhile the promotion continued to run and within a few more days we had gone over the $500,000 budget.

Our finance and ad execution team had missed the key fact when doing the forecast – the forecast should have shown that there was a 100% certainty that the promotion as structured, would go through the $500,000 budget within a couple of weeks given everyday activity. This was clear, the data was available during the forecast, and it was missed.

So in other words, Discover was essentially paying $10 to tens of thousands of users who had no idea the promotion was going on, and were just subsidizing existing behavior – Discover was paying $10 mostly to consumers that already had Discover set as their 1-click default and were unaware of any Kindle promotion. That was not Discover’s intention, nor was it Amazon’s when we ran the promotion. But it was our mistake to rectify.”

A number of internal emails were sent between project managers of the advertising platform, trying to get Discover to pay more money, without divulging that e-Ink owners were the ones taking advantage of the promotion. According to the emails, Amazon executives directly downplayed the amount spent directly to Discover. Also, according to the legal filing Amazon lied to Discover about specific metrics and page impressions on the custom landing page for the promotion. When Discover pulled out of the promotion, this is when it all hit the fan.

The Ad executive was brought in for his monthly PIP meeting, where they went over milestone goals. He was scolded for not asking Discover for more money, even though he knew all of the funds were spent and Amazon still had not fixed the bug for e-ink Kindles. He was asked to transfer to another department, and upon refusing went to HR and was promptly fired.

The legal brief ended with “To me, it seems like a culture of treating its employees like robots and numbers. And perhaps that is what spawns and encourages the kind of dark behavior I saw at Amazon. Employees aren’t just Bezeos-Bots and numbers. Customers aren’t just a source of free-cash flow at any price.”

You can read the entire legal briefing HERE. It is very long and a compelling read for Amazon intrigue.

Amazon UK Distribution Centre

ICANN has been running a series of auctions over the course of the last year for a new series of custom domain names. Amazon has been battling it out against rival publishing and self-publishing companies in an effort to attain the lucrative .book TLD. Amazon has just won the auction despite a filing by the Association of American Publishers in 2013 that opposed its bid, and described the possible control of the .book TLD by the retailer, or by any private company, to be counter to the public interest.

Reportedly Amazon won the domain with a closing bid of $10 million dollars and was competing against Google and Bowker in the late stages.  There is no knowledge currently if Amazon gave an incentive to these two companies to dropout or if they did it willingly.

It will be interesting to see what Amazon intends on doing with the .book domain name, if they intend on providing vanity URL’s for authors who self-publish under the KDP program.

Categories : Technology
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