Amazon

Amazon to Adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s Globally Renowned Fantasy Novels, The Lord of the Rings

13 November 2017

From the Amazon Press Room:

Amazon today announced it has acquired the global television rights to The Lord of the Rings, based on the celebrated fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, with a multi-season commitment.

. . . .

“The Lord of the Rings is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of generations of fans through literature and the big screen,” said Sharon Tal Yguado, Head of Scripted Series, Amazon Studios. “We are honored to be working with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins and New Line on this exciting collaboration for television and are thrilled to be taking The Lord of the Rings fans on a new epic journey in Middle Earth.”

. . . .

The upcoming Amazon Prime Original will be available for Prime members to stream and enjoy using the Amazon Prime Video app for TVs.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room

Amazon’s Kindle turns 10: have ebooks clicked with you yet?

13 November 2017

From The Guardian:

George W Bush was in the White House, Chris Brown was topping the Billboard chart and Jeff Bezos … well, on 19 November 2007, Jeff Bezos was doing “the most important thing we’ve ever done” and launching the Amazon Kindle.

The first Kindles were chunky things about the same size as a paperback, weighing a smidgeon less than 300g. They had wonky little keyboards and a little wheel for scrolling up and down a grey and black screen. But Bezos was never aiming for a flashy design. Speaking at the launch in New York, he said that all he wanted was a device that could “disappear”.

“All of us readers know that flow state when we read,” Bezos explained. “We don’t think about the glue, the paper, the stitching – all of that goes away. All that remains is the author’s world, and we flow right into that.”

. . . .

“Instead of shopping on your PC,” Bezos explained, “you shop on the device … And guess what? [Books] are all $9.99. And guess what? They all get delivered wirelessly in less than minute.”

. . . .

But the Kindle was never only a portable bookshop, it was also a publishing house. Strip away the expensive business of jackets, paper and physical distribution, and the words of a Booker winner or a Nobel laureate appear much like those of anyone else.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Now Featured on Wal-Mart’s Website: Higher Prices

13 November 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wants to charge more to buy some products online than in stores, part of the company’s efforts to boost profits and drive store traffic as it competes with Amazon.com Inc.

The world’s biggest retailer has quietly raised prices for some food and household items sold on its U.S. website, including boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Colgate toothbrushes and bags of Purina dog food, according to people familiar with the matter and comparisons between online and in-store prices.

Some big-box retailers charge more for online purchases, including Costco Wholesale Corp. , but the move is unusual for Wal-Mart, which has long honed an “everyday low price” message and has worked to keep online prices at least as low as shoppers find in its 4,700 U.S. stores.

. . . .

In some cases, product listings on walmart.com show an “online” and “in the store” price. Often the online price matches Amazon.

“We always work to offer the best price online relative to other sites,” a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said. “It simply costs less to sell some items in stores. Customers can access those store prices online when they choose to pick up the item in store.”

. . . .

The higher online prices are part of Wal-Mart’s efforts to nudge more customers into stores as well as raise its e-commerce margins. Wal-Mart is investing billions to boost e-commerce sales, which rose 60% in the U.S. in the most recent quarter, but some shareholders worry the effort could drag on profits.

Marc Lore, head of Wal-Mart’s U.S. e-commerce unit, told investors in October that “this year should be the largest loss in e-commerce, and we’ll see slight improvement next year.”

. . . .

For inexpensive items, “there’s no cheaper way to get these products to consumers than have them come in the store and pick it off the shelf themselves,” Mr. Lore said at last month’s investor conference. He said he hopes shoppers will come to stores for the best price and place larger orders online to offset the cost of shipment.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG always becomes a bit uneasy when a large organization talks of “driving” its customers here or there to increase profits.

This “strategy” assumes a degree of control over customer behavior that can disappear very quickly. It can also backfire if customers feel they’re being manipulated.

PG never assumes that others will have the same attitudes as he does, but dealing with Amazon (or a good ecommerce site from Walmart or somebody else) is almost always better than going to a Walmart store.

When Walmart founder Sam Walton (“Mr. Sam”) was alive, he was insistently obsessive about both low prices every day and store cleanliness. And he staffed his stores accordingly.

Mr. Sam has been in his grave for awhile and Walmart has changed.

From The New York Times:

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and grocer, has cut so many employees that it no longer has enough workers to stock its shelves properly, according to some employees and industry analysts. Internal notes from a March meeting of top Walmart managers show the company grappling with low customer confidence in its produce and poor quality. “Lose Trust,” reads one note, “Don’t have items they are looking for — can’t find it.”

. . . .

“In its larger supercenter stores, Walmart can’t keep the shelves stocked, and that is driving customers away,” said Terrie Ellerbee, associate editor at the grocery industry publication The Shelby Report, in an e-mail.

She traced the problem to 2010, after Walmart reduced the range of merchandise it carried in an attempt to make stores less cluttered. Customers did not like the change, and Walmart added merchandise back, but with declining sales then, it did not add back employees, she said. “Without enough labor hours to get those items back, not to mention to do routine stocking, shelves were left bare,” Ms. Ellerbee said.

Link to the rest at The New York Times (Article from 2013, but from PG’s experience, nothing has changed since then.)

Amazon continues to make everybody crazy.

Local Bookstores Take Aim at Amazon

11 November 2017

From Seven Days:

It should come as no surprise that independent bookstores are more than a little miffed at online monolith Amazon. But mom-and-pop book shops aren’t the only businesses affected by the retail giant’s ever-expanding reach and dominance. The massive corporation captures one of every two American dollars spent online. That’s according to a 2016 report published by Stacy Mitchell and Olivia LaVecchia of the nonprofit advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

But two Vermont bookstores are fighting back — or at least, talking about fighting back. Phoenix Books, Northshire Bookstore and local news website VTDigger present a pair of public discussions this week with Mitchell as the featured speaker. The idea: Present listeners with enough info to arm them for the coming retail war — or, more likely (and less dramatically), the long, slow, uphill trudge.

. . . .

Mitchell’s and LaVecchia’s report is frightening, at least to store owners. The writers describe Amazon not just as a massive retailer but as a many-tentacled monster — seriously, the word “tentacle” is repeated often — that is slowly taking over the publishing, television, movie and food industries. According to Mitchell and LaVecchia, Amazon even has a partnership with the Central Intelligence Agency.

But the two view Amazon as more than than just an overgrown bully to local booksellers. They see the company as a fundamental threat to the fabric of society itself.

“Amazon’s increasing dominance comes with high costs,” reads the report’s introduction.  “It’s eroding opportunity and fueling inequality, and it’s concentrating power in ways that endanger competition, community life and democracy. And yet these consequences have gone largely unnoticed thanks to Amazon’s remarkable invisibility and the way its tentacles have quietly extended their reach.”

Link to the rest at Seven Days and thanks to Dave for the tip.

PG suggests that being one of the most admired companies in the United States (and probably much of the world) is a bit inconsistent with the “remarkable invisibility” of Amazon.  Additionally, the word, “tentacles” appearing in any document not related to biology is a pretty reliable indicator of propaganda of one sort or another in PG’s reading experience.

PG checked out the website for The Institute for Self Reliance, the organization that sponsored the report described in the OP. The ISR appears to be against Amazon, Walmart and large utility companies and in favor of below-market rents for small businesses, regulated advertising, food scrap recovery policies and bans on non-refillable bottles.

Amazon Key won’t get online retailers through the front door

8 November 2017

From recode:

On Wednesday, in 37 U.S. cities, Amazon will begin piloting a new service that enables delivery people to enter your home while you’re not there using a camera-assisted, remote-operated lock. Given the collective shudder that greeted the announcement of Amazon Key, Americans aren’t exactly comfortable with the idea of an Internet giant letting “a random human” (or worse) range freely in their homes.

Whether you see it as a well-meaning extension of the company’s commitment to convenience or its latest attempt to invade and commercialize our most private spaces, Amazon Key is emblematic of the broader e-commerce industry’s quest to enter our homes. Having battled over the last mile of distribution, online retailers are now focused on the last meter of fulfillment, begging the question: Will delivery make it past the front door?

I believe the answer is unequivocally yes. As CEO of Hello Alfred, the only company in the market that has earned the privilege of entering people’s homes to deliver goods and services — logging more than one million visits across five cities in three years — I believe deeply in the premise that the future of retail is in the home. And I believe more and more households will regard in-home commerce not as an unwelcome incursion but an organically integrated amenity that ensures that groceries go directly into the fridge, dry cleaning into the closet and toiletries are replenished without having to think about them. It’s already happening.

. . . .

[T]here was a time when the Amazon smile, the iconic Apple and Google’s quartet of primary colors inspired loyalty and engendered a sense of trust. As we happily traded away the hours in the day for more screen time and personal data for more convenience, we welcomed tech companies to claim more and more surface area in our lives. But it becomes clearer every day that these companies’ sense of stewardship and accountability did not scale up with their market caps.

Link to the rest at recode and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

As Amazon’s Alexa Turns Three, It’s Evolving Faster Than Ever

6 November 2017

From Fast Company:

How often has any piece of consumer technology had as eventful a year as 2017 has been for Amazon’s Alexa voice service and Echo hardware?

Consider the evidence: A year ago, Amazon boasted that there were 4,000 Alexa skills–tasks the service can perform, from setting a Nest thermostat to playing Jeopardy–up from 135 the previous January. Today, the count stands at 25,000.

. . . .

How Alexa and Echo are doing as a business is impossible to pin down precisely: Amazon, which is famously reticent to specify sales in units, has not disclosed how many Echo devices it’s sold or how many users Alexa has. But it remains the clear leader in a growing market. CEO Jeff Bezos recently said that there’s been a five-fold increase in Alexa users over the past year. And research firm Strategy Analytics estimates that 68% of all smart speakers (including the Echo and third-party contenders) are powered by Alexa.

. . . .

In September, the company disclosed that it had 5,000 people working on the [Alexa] service and Echo devices.

. . . .

Users set hundreds of thousands of Alexa reminders a week; the most popular ones involve calling friends or family members as well as remembering to take medicine.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Amazon allowed by law to undercut Australian businesses

5 November 2017

From Reuters:

Competition laws will allow Amazon to undercut local businesses with loss-making prices when it opens for business in Australia, expected to be later in November, the Australian competition regulator said on Saturday.

. . . .

“In terms of misuse of market power, if you open a store in a new town and you set a common price point, you are going to lose money initially if you don’t have scale,” [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims] said.

“Eventually, if you get your business plan right, you will make that price point, that is in no way illegal.”

Link to the rest at Reuters

Amazon Snips Prices on Other Sellers’ Items Ahead of Holiday Onslaught

5 November 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. has quietly started lowering prices by as much as 9% in recent weeks on goods offered by independent merchants on its site, ratcheting up a price war with other retail giants—and potentially straining its relationship with some sellers.

Until now, Amazon has generally controlled prices only on merchandise it sells directly to consumers. Now, it is discounting some items sold by third parties, covering the cost difference itself to ensure competitive pricing.

The new “Discount provided by Amazon” tag allows Amazon to compete more fiercely with low-cost rivals including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Dollar General Corp. just as the all-important holiday season gets under way.

. . . .

The unusual move, while good for consumers, could further strain Amazon’s complicated relationship with big-name brands, manufacturers and its merchants. Sales by independent sellers are a significant area of growth in Amazon’s retail business.

. . . .

The discounts could be a mixed bag for some sellers. A lower price on an item that matches or beats a competitor could help drive more sales at no extra cost to the seller. It may deplete inventory unexpectedly, though. And the lower prices could inadvertently violate a merchant’s agreement with a brand to keep its products at or above a set minimum advertised price.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Are Amazon’s Brick-and-Mortar Plans in Trouble?

5 November 2017

From Madison.com:

Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods stunned many brick-and-mortar retailers, which feared that merging Amazon’s e-commerce ecosystem with hundreds of physical stores could render traditional supermarkets and superstores obsolete.

Amazon already slashed prices at Whole Foods, started selling Echo speakers in stores, and plans to add pickup lockers to some locations and Whole Foods products to Prime Now, its two-hour delivery program. Those plans should pay off as Whole Foods stores become pickup and delivery hubs for groceries and online orders. That combo would make Prime memberships even more attractive with special discounts.

However, big box retailers aren’t sitting idly by waiting for their greatest rival to take over the market. Instead, they could rely on real estate agreements to limit what Amazon can do with nearby Whole Foods stores.

. . . .

Real estate companies generally lease out large properties like strip malls to a wide range of retailers. Their profits can only keep growing if those tenants stay in business and keep paying the rent.

Many Whole Foods stores are located in strip malls and shopping centers, and analysts expect Amazon to shrink many of those stores, only using them to sell fresh produce or other products that need to be seen and touched. Meanwhile, the company will store other consumable products in its fulfillment centers, shipping them directly to customers for online orders.

. . . .

That’s great for Amazon, but it’ll hurt neighboring stores — landlords will see their rents decline and disappear as tenants go out of business. As a result, many leases between landlords and retailers — which can last 10 to 20 years — stipulate that landlords can’t lease properties to certain tenants (like strip clubs) which might hurt their business, or start new construction projects without their approval.

Link to the rest at Madison.com

Kindle Unlimited is not here to Make Friends

3 November 2017

From author  and TPV regular Gene Doucette:

I want to talk a little about an Amazon service called Kindle Unlimited, because it’s complicated and interesting, and is increasingly the primary discussion subject among authors (of the indie variety) and not for a lot of really good reasons.

Here’s the summary, from the reader’s perspective: Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a subscription plan whereby a subscriber can, for $9.99 a month, read as many books as they want. (This is sometimes described as ‘ten books a month’ but this is inaccurate. A subscriber can only rent as many as ten books at one time, but that just means when they have ten books in their kindle they have to return one before picking up another. There’s no limit on the number of times they do this.)

Here’s what KU means from the author’s perspective: in order to be available in KU, a book has to be enrolled in KDP Select. (I apologize for the acronyms, but it’s not really my fault. KDP is ‘kindle direct publishing’ and it’s the name of the program authors use to publish to Amazon. All of us use KDP.) Being enrolled in Select means having access to a few perks aside from KU, but I won’t get into them here, because they’re not relevant to this conversation. What is relevant is this: if your book is enrolled in KDP Select, it cannot be published elsewhere.

I’m going to repeat that, because it’s important.

If you are selling an ebook through Kindle Unlimited, you can’t also sell it—as an ebook—anywhere else. Amazon will certainly still sell it (so you can get sales as well as KU downloads) but the marketplaces at Kobo, Nook, Apple, Google Play, Overdrive and so on can’t carry it.

. . . .

Since KU is a subscription model, users aren’t buying a copy of an ebook. (Side note: nobody who ‘buys’ one really is, either, but we’re not going to go down this road today.) They’re renting it, reading some or all of it, and returning it, and they aren’t paying whatever the cover price is for that right. Instead, Amazon collects monthly fees, puts them into a pool, maybe throws a few million extra in to boost that pool (more on this later) and then distributes it to the authors who participate in the program.

This means all of the authors are sharing in the same pool every month, where the amount in that pool varies based on how many subscribers there are, plus the aforementioned funds Amazon tosses in to boost the total.

How these funds are doled out has changed over time. The first version Amazon tried counted up the number of titles in KU that were downloaded and read to at least the 10% mark, divided the cash pool by that number, and paid everyone using this calculation. So for instance, if the math resulted in every ‘read’ getting $1.43, and an author had 10 reads, the author got $14.30 that month.

This system ended up promoting short books. People who published short stories got paid just as much as people who wrote full novels, so why write full novels? Or, why publish full novels in single installments, when one book broken into five parts could be five times as profitable?

This created a marketplace that turned off a decent percentage of readers, and so Amazon changed the way they paid authors to a system that counted actual pages read.

You probably heard something about this, because a number of hysterical articles came out when it happened. Most of those articles failed to distinguish between KU authors and all other authors, so that it sounded like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King were getting money by-the-page from the largest bookseller in the country.

KU2 (as it was called) rewarded longer works, which had the immediate positive effect of altering the Unlimited marketplace in a way that made Amazon’s subscribers happy. (Side note: this is always Amazon’s first goal. More on this later as well.)

. . . .

There are some questions that should arise naturally from the above description.

1: What is a page?

This is a simple and yet remarkably complicated question, because we’re talking about electronic books delivered to a wide range of devices with different screen sizes to readers who have the ability to adjust font sizes.

There’s no such thing as a ‘page’ in an ebook, essentially, and so Amazon had to invent a standard. They did, and it’s called Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (or KENPC, and yay, a new acronym).

KENPC is enormously important, because the KENPC total for your book dictates how much you’re getting paid for a full read. It’s also calculated using a formula Amazon doesn’t share, which means there are now several hundred pages on Internet message boards consisting of writers trying to figure out that formula.

. . . .

2: How does Amazon count pages read?

( Note: Amazon doesn’t discuss this very much, so most of what follows is a combination of known things and best guesses. Feel free to call me on any detail you’d like to in the comments.)

Before dealing with how Amazon counts pages read, let’s talk about one of those things Amazon provided to customers because—again, the customer experience is the biggest thing for them. There’s a feature on Kindles called Page Flip. It allows users to essentially go up a level and skim across several pages at a time. This is so readers can navigate from one part of a book to another quickly, in the same way they would if they were browsing a physical book. This will be important in a second.

There have been multiple iterations of page reads. At first, Amazon simply recorded the last page a reader reached on whatever device they’re using. (Variant: the last page when the device was last synced with Amazon via WiFi connection. Some believe if a reader reaches the last page and then goes back to the beginning and then syncs, the pages won’t count.) They decided to adjust this approach, about a year ago, and that adjustment resulted in a lot of authors losing a lot of pages read more or less overnight.

What did they change? Best-guess, they started counting ‘pages read’ as ‘pages reached outside of Page Flip’. So, for instance, if a reader only wants to read the sex scenes in a book and uses page flip to get to those scenes, the author is only getting paid for however many pages that sex scene took up, and not the ones between.

As I said, this is not a known thing, it’s a best guess, but it’s (in my opinion) a good one given what has happened since: authors are reporting that some customers are reading entire books in Page Flip mode, and therefore costing them reads.

Amazon has stated that Page Flip is meant as a navigational tool, not for regular book consumption, but on some large devices the pages look big enough in that mode to be readable. Amazon’s also said that pages reached in Page Flip do not count toward the pages-read total, and further that it’s not significant enough to impact the totals.

. . . .

I’m surely going to get called an apologist for Amazon here, but look: I’ve been a part of the self-publishing marketplace since 2014, and it has not looked the same for more than six months at any point. It is constantly evolving. I can absolutely appreciate everyone upset that the money they’re getting paid per page has settled down to around $0.004 when it was $0.005 not so long ago, but this doesn’t mean Amazon is stealing money from you. It couldmean they have a lower limit to how unprofitable they are okay with KU being (note: Kindle Unlimited is not profitable, that’s why Amazon keeps throwing money in the pool) and are holding it there. It could mean sales across Amazon are down, or across the entire industry are down. It could mean a whole lot of things.

Link to the rest at Gene Doucette

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