Archive for Amazon
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?
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).
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?).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Amazon will be opening up their online bookstore and selling e-readers in the Netherlands this coming Wednesday. Over 20,000 eBooks will be available in Dutch and 2 million in English, giving readers a ton of content to be able to devour.
In the Netherlands Amazon will be competing primarily against BOL.COM, the largest online bookstore. 60% of all eBooks currently being sold are via this website and they have a larger library, that includes 30,000 titles. The primary advantage BOL has, is that they sell their content with Social DRM and Digital Watermarks, thereby making the EPUB files able to be loaded on any e-reader, tablet or smartphone.
Amazon will be fighting an uphill battle to get market share in the Netherlands and they are hoping cheap e-readers will pave the way. The Kindle Basic will be available for €59, Kindle Paperwhite, €109, and the new Kindle Voyage will cost €189.
Update: Amazon has just updated their Android Kindle App and iOS App for Dutch support.
Amazon describes their new Echo device as a speaker, but fans of Iron Man will understand when I describe it to be a lot more like J.A.R.V.I.S.! Designed around the sound of your voice, the Echo is always on and ready to respond to your every command –beginning with the wake-word ‘Alexa’. Sure it also plays music (from local radio stations, NPR, and ESPN from TuneIn), but all the while it is ready to answer questions like: “Will it rain tomorrow?” or “How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?” (plus being eager to deliver the news, forecast the weather, set alarms and timers, and help manage your shopping lists).
The accuracy remains to be seen (or experienced), but Amazon claims the Echo can hear you from quite a distance (thanks to a circular array of seven microphones that use ‘beam-forming technology’ that will hear you from any direction).
The Echo also has its head (brain) in the cloud, running with help from Amazon Web Services. What this means for consumers is an ever-expanding database of knowledge with the Echo learning as you use it, adjusting itself to your speech patterns and vocabulary.
Using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and controlled by a companion mobile app (even when you are away from home), Amazon has packed a lot of features into a small package measuring about 9.25 inches high and 3.27 inches wide.
Amazon Echo is currently available by invitation only for $199 USD, though membership really does have its privileges –those subscribed to Prime can grab one for only $99 USD.
Technically you have been able to play games on your television by way of an Amazon Fire TV appliance since it was released, but thanks to a fresh batch of updates, there are a wider variety of tablet style games available to try (as long as you have invested in one of their official Gamepad controller accessories). Of course, when you consider that you can also mirror the screen of any Android device to your television with the Fire TV (without needing to login to your Amazon account, much the same way Apple’s AirPlay functionality works) –it seems a little frivolous and unnecessary because you can just play whatever tablet games you have already invested in.
Even with the update, games that require multitouch input will still be a challenge and likely won’t work very well –but it’s a step in the right direction. In order to be competitive with the other television appliances available, it is important to includes these little value adds.
Also part of this update bundle is the ability to travel with your Amazon Fire TV –moving easily between the US and UK without any difficulty. While I’m sure this is a problem that plagued millions of you out there, it’s another ‘nice to have’ item for the feature list.
Telltale Games brought out The Wolf Among Us to Android over four months ago, but there was a catch: it was only available through the Amazon Appstore. Fortunately for Android users who choose not to deal with the Appstore, the game is no longer exclusive to Amazon. Built by the creators of The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us stars Bigby Wolf (described as the big and bad protagonist who is as much a man as he is a werewolf) who players can control by clicking on items and navigating conversations.
Playing the game reminds me of the old school Choose Your Own Adventure books, where the story is adapted based on the decisions you make. The graphics are really well done, but I do have a few complaints: much of the text on the screen is very low contrast (often seen in dark purples and reds against a dark or black background) and I found it very difficult to read quickly, the pause button is difficult to find in the top right of the screen, the dialogue is a little wordy and there are a lot of accents that get old fast, and apparently ‘silence is a valid option’ –so if you hesitate before making a decision, you can lose your opportunity!
Despite these downsides, the game itself is pretty entertaining and it’s worth checking out –especially if you enjoy dark storylines that encourage your participation.
If a little graphic violence will not scare you off, download The Wolf Among Us for your Android devices. The first episode is included, but you can purchase additional parts later if you find yourself immersed.