Amazon

What Happens When Billionaires Battle Gossipmongers?

9 February 2019

From The Washington Post:

Both men have gobs of money.

They didn’t make it the old-fashioned way, with steel and brick, but instead with big, disruptive, life-changing ideas.

After they got rich, after they’d achieved a titan status imaginable only in the digital age, that’s when the tabloids came for them.

And that’s when they went to war.

Theirs is a tale of two billionaires — Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.com fame and Peter Thiel, who birthed PayPal. So different in style and temperament, the two men have each found their sex lives splashed in public against their wills in separate tabloid “gotchas.” But they have tangled with the merchants of salacity in completely opposite ways.

Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, blasted his disdain into the maw of the Internet, essentially delivering the equivalent of a lawyer’s opening statement with the entire planet sitting in the jury box. Thiel operated in sotto voce fashion, secretly maneuvering to exact revenge and not surfacing until he had triumphed.

Bezos is locked in a conflict with the National Enquirer, which last month published intimate text messages he’d sent to Lauren Sanchez, with whom he was having an extramarital affair, and photos of them together. In a Medium post Thursday, Bezos accused the supermarket tabloid, which is owned by American Media Inc., of blackmail and extortion for threatening to publish additional intimate photographs if he and his representatives did not agree to stop their investigation of the how the material was obtained. Bezos suggested that the tabloid, whose parent company is run by a friend of President Trump, had political motives to run stories about his affair. Trump has frequently attacked Bezos over his ownership of The Post.

Thiel’s battle took place against Gawker, the sassy and sometimes raunchy website that earned his eternal enmity by outing him as gay in 2007. He got back at the site in 2016 when he surreptitiously funded a successful lawsuit by Terry Bollea, better known as the wrestler Hulk Hogan, over the site’s 2012 publication of a tape depicting Bollea having sex. Gawker went out of business after a jury awarded $140 million in damages.

“They are two fundamentally different approaches to similar problems,” said Ryan Holiday, author of “Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue.”

When Thiel’s involvement in the Bollea case was revealed, Bezos was less than enthusiastic about his fellow tech titan’s actions. At a conference in June 2016, Bezos was asked about the Thiel-Gawker slugfest. He responded with an old saying: “Seek revenge and you should dig two graves, one for yourself.”

“Is that really how you want to spend your time?” Bezos went on to say. “As a public figure, the best defense to speech that you don’t like is to develop a thick skin.”

Those remarks came to mind for Bezos watchers after his posting on Medium, a self-publishing website.

. . . .

In the first paragraph of Bezos’s post, he frames his decision to publicize letters he had received from the National Enquirer as evidence of wrongdoing — a step beyond berating the tabloid for publishing details of his private life.

“Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.

The saga is drenched in a hailstorm of theories and counter-theories. Bezos’s team, headed by famed security consultant Gavin de Becker, has cast a suspicious eye on Michael Sanchez regarding the leak of the texts and photos. Sanchez is the brother of Bezos’s girlfriend, former TV host Lauren Sanchez. Michael Sanchez is a Trump supporter, and his potential involvement is part of a theory that the leak is a political hit.

. . . .

Both Sanchez and de Becker have, at times, explored the possibility that the text messages were obtained by a foreign government or a business competitor, according to interviews and a Post review of emails and text messages. Sanchez has even posited that Israel’s Mossad, British intelligence or the U.S. National Security Agency might be involved. (De Becker ultimately concluded that hacking was not involved.)

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG hopes he is wrong, but, more than once, he has had the feeling that, a few years down the road, we may look back on this series of events as a turning point for Amazon.

From the beginnings of Amazon, Bezos has put his distinctive personal stamp on the company in the same way that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates built very large companies which seemed to be reflections of their very different personalities.

Jobs, of course, was forced to give up his management position due to cancer while Gates retired from Microsoft in an orderly fashion, but neither company has been the same since the person with the dominant vision that drove its tremendous growth departed.

For PG, Microsoft has become the most boring large tech company in the world. Windows continues. MS Office continues. Like a power utility company, each relies primarily upon its quasi-monopoly position to keep the dollars rolling in.

New Microsoft products seem to be lame derivatives of products originated elsewhere. Microsoft Surface is an iPad wannabe. Why does Edge even exist? MS is into producing products and services that are derivative of its own ancient good ideas or the ideas of others.

On the other hand, Apple is much less boring because post-Jobs management has made the mistake of believing it can continue to raise prices without doing anything really new. Now it’s in the process of cutting prices on its iPhones and iPads to stem a significant decline in sales and the new ideas in mobile phones are all coming out of China.

So what do we make of Bezos and Amazon?

Has Bezos lost his mind? He’s supposed to be reliably brilliant.

The year is 2019 and intelligent people don’t take nude selfies and text them to other people. That’s a mistake that any intelligent sixteen-year-old who wants to get into a good college will not make.

Additionally, intelligent people haven’t gotten into big fights with The National Enquirer for decades. Bezos already bought The Washington Post. He should have purchased The National Enquirer and fired everybody he didn’t like.

When he spent a lot of his time in court, PG had to talk more than one client out of suing someone because the collateral damage to the client’s reputation would far exceed any monetary benefit the client would derive. On such occasions, he would sometimes quote George Bernard Shaw.

I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Stolen Artwork Is All over Amazon

8 February 2019

From BuzzFeed News:

When artist Susie Ghahremani first came across a seller impersonating her on Amazon, she stayed up until 6 a.m., clicking through hundreds of the seller’s listings and reporting over two dozen URLs featuring counterfeit products. The rip-offs of her designs on Amazon were blatant: One listing used Ghahremani’s photo of a necklace she’d made, which featured her owl illustration in its pendant. The seller also claimed “Artwork by me, Susie Ghahremani” in the description. Still, Amazon denied Ghahremani’s takedown requests four times and only relented after her tweet chastising the company went viral.

The issue of stolen artwork on Amazon is widespread and well-known, but the company hasn’t addressed the infringement in a meaningful way. Fighting unauthorized use of artists’ original work on the site remains a constant battle. Though Amazon has a Brand Registry that allows Apple and other businesses to upload their trademarks and combat counterfeiting, independent creators who spoke to BuzzFeed News say the program doesn’t work for them — but they believe it should. Works of art are considered copyrighted goods and are not trademarks, like a brand name or logo, so artists don’t qualify for the “proactive brand protection” Amazon’s Brand Registry provides.

. . . .

Artists, photographers, and designers must instead resort to removal requests. They claim Amazon is slow to heed takedown notices and sometimes rejects them, even when listings clearly feature stolen photographs and artwork. They say that it often forces them to file complaints over and over again and that the site does not ban flagrant repeat offenders from its marketplace. And even when the company does remove infringing listings, the same stolen artwork often crops up again elsewhere on the site. On top of that, while the law requires Amazon to remove infringement, it does not hold the company responsible when artists sue the e-commerce giant for hosting stolen artwork and providing logistics for sellers who offer it.

“It would be ridiculous for us to try to combat this. We’re a small business,” Bryan Ambacher, the owner of Etsy shop CosmicFirefly, whose handmade jewelry is often copied and sold on Amazon, told BuzzFeed News. “We don’t retain an attorney. We make $150,000 a year in sales. And Amazon’s gotten so big that it’s like whack-a-mole. It makes me think you can’t beat Goliath,” he said.

. . . .

Amazon is required by US laws, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to heed takedown requests from art copyright holders. “Amazon absolutely has to comply if they receive notice, under the DMCA,” said Joel Rothman, an intellectual property lawyer specializing in infringement cases.

But according to independent artists, Amazon typically doesn’t fulfill their first requests, and it sometimes offers inconsistent explanations as to why it doesn’t have to.

Ghahremani was dumbfounded in December 2018 when Amazon repeatedly refused to remove the listing of an owl necklace she reported. The artwork and product photo was hers, but the listing wasn’t.

“It shouldn’t have been a big deal. You’re not suing, you’re not making unreasonable demands — just that it gets removed — and Amazon won’t even respect that,” said Ghahremani.

Link to the rest at BuzzFeed News

Amazon Dives into Self-Driving Cars with a Bet on Aurora

7 February 2019

From Wired:

Amazon Wednesday made perhaps its most significant move yet into the self-driving car space, announcing an investment in autonomous tech developer Aurora. For a company with one of the largest logistics operations on the planet, it’s about time.

“Autonomous technology has the potential to help make the jobs of our employees and partners safer and more productive, whether it’s in a fulfillment center or on the road, and we’re excited about the possibilities,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. Amazon and Aurora declined to disclose the terms of the investment.

. . . .

Amazon has previously dabbled in this space. It was a partner on Toyota’s e-Palette concept project. It pitches its Amazon Web Services unit as a tool for autonomous vehicle developers and hosts an autonomous racing league for 1/18th-scale race cars. In 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported the company had formed a small team focused on driverless tech, and CNBC reported last month that it’s working with robo-trucking startup Embark to move some goods on the I-10 freeway. Amazon is developing robots to schlep groceries and food deliveries.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG hasn’t seen a lot of detailed analysis in the business press about the potential for liability coming back to bite the investors in self-driving cars.

In March of last year, an Uber self-driving car was involved in a fatal vehicular accident. The auto hit and killed a woman who was walking with her bicycle and it appeared that the Uber vehicle’s self-driving systems did not respond in any way calculated to avoid hitting the woman.

The Department of Motor Vehicles in California has issued regulations governing self-driving cars in that state and has some sort of process for issuing permits to operate those vehicles on public roadways.

While contemplating this matter, it occurred to PG that a vehicular murder caused by subtle adjustments to a self-driving car’s software/firmware to cause the vehicle to home in on a particular cell phone signal could make a nice book.

Book Shopping on Amazon? Don’t Be Duped Into Buying a Summary

7 February 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Summaries of popular books have long been a staple in the publishing business. Now they are often hard to tell apart from the real thing.

Authors and publishers say they are concerned about a recent surge in summaries available on Amazon, some of which have covers that copy or mimic the original’s art and use the author’s name. Some consumers are mistakenly buying those summaries instead of the original works, they say, hurting their sales.

Summaries of top-selling self-help and business titles appear at or near the top of recent searches for the books on Amazon, a Wall Street Journal analysis found. In some cases, the covers of the summary and the original book were very similar—aside from a “summary” label at the top.

. . . .

After the Journal contacted Amazon.com Inc. last week, the company said it would remove the works from its store that violated its rules and subsequently pulled a number of summary titles highlighted by the Journal.

Amazon, much like Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc., has come under pressure to do a better job policing inappropriate activity on its platform. The company has struggled to entirely weed out makers of counterfeit products, as well as sellers who are finding new tricks to outsmart Amazon’s automated product-ranking system. Its sponsored-item advertisements have come under criticism for looking similar to regular listings and appearing in unexpected spots such as people’s baby registries. The book summaries, typically self-published using Amazon’s tools, are the latest challenge.

Publishers say the current offering of summaries—which retail for a fraction of the original’s price—differ from past ones such as CliffsNotes, which often had generic covers that looked nothing like the original, and ranked lower in search results.

The new breed of summary publishers have used Amazon’s powerful advertising platformto their advantage, buying up keywords that ensure their products appear above those of nonpaying sellers—albeit with a “sponsored” tag above the title. Sometimes, the summaries even carry a “best-seller” label.

. . . .

Amazon said in a securities filing last week that it may not be able to prevent sellers “from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated, or stolen goods, selling goods in an unlawful or unethical manner, violating the proprietary rights of others, or otherwise violating our policies.”

An Amazon spokesman said the company required that book summaries “be sufficiently differentiated to avoid customer confusion.”

. . . .

Among the titles removed by Amazon last week after the Journal inquired were several summaries of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

. . . .

Summaries that use the same covers or mimic the covers of the original books may constitute unfair competition under state and federal laws, Mr. Brown added. Distinctive covers have value, he said, and those rights holders are protected. “It is really about causing confusion in the marketplace,” said Mr. Brown.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG admits to being surprised that Amazon’s policing of this type of book has been so lax. Can it really be that difficult to build algorithms that highlight “books” that are designed to free-ride on bestsellers?

Takeaways for Merchants from Amazon q4 Earnings

4 February 2019

From eCommerce Bytes:

Amazon released earnings on Thursday, and there were some takeaways about third-party merchant sales, changes in seller fees, Amazon delivery, advertising, and upcoming investment in fulfillment center capacity.

Amazon grew 2018 fourth quarter sales 20% to $72.4 billion. Sales for North America in the 4th quarter of 2018 were up 18% year-over-year; sales for International were up 19% FX-neutral; and sales for its AWS cloud web-hosting business was up 46% FX-neutral.

. . . .

“The better-than-expected fourth-quarter results, backed by strong holiday sales, comes as investors fret about decelerating growth following two straight quarters of disappointing revenue. Sales climbed 19.7 percent in the latest quarter, which was faster than the 18.8 percent expected, but still the slowest since the first quarter of 2015.”

. . . .

Amazon said third-party sales grew faster than first-party sales. It also called out the fact in its earnings press release, where it stated that nearly 200,000 small and medium-sized businesses surpassed $100,000 in sales in Amazon’s stores in 2018.

. . . .

Amazon said third-party sellers are an important part of its value proposition – “they’ve had great success on our site, more than half of our units sold are from third-party sellers.” Amazon said it would always be evolving that business, including adding new fees or subtracting existing fees. “We generally work to change the fees to make sure that the incentives are strong on both sides and we continue to have a healthy growth in third party.”

. . . .

The company continues to expand its Amazon logistics and delivery capability and it also matches up with the faster ship speed for Prime members. “We have over 100 million items that customers could get within two days, but there’s now over 3 million that will be delivered within one day or faster in 10,000 cities and town.”

Amazon deliveries are a big part of that. Often it costs the same or less as using its outside shipping partners. Amazon invests selectively because it has more perfect information about where demand is and how it’s moving items – “by not involving third parties all the time, we can find that we can extend our order cut offs.”

Asked about advertising revenue, Amazon said it was focused on evolving tools and services for agencies and advertisers to make it easier for companies to grow – “we’re continually excited about the opportunity there.” It said it was working on making smarter recommendations as well as addressing the needs of brands.

Link to the rest at eCommerce Bytes

PG has recently noticed more deliveries by people wearing Amazon shirts arriving at Casa PG.

It’s early days for Amazon’s delivery service, but the appearance of the Amazon delivery persons carries a distinctly more “temp hire” vibe than the UPS or Fedex folks.

Amazon Is Hauling Cargo in Self-Driving Trucks

31 January 2019

From CNBC:

Amazon is using self-driving trucks developed by Embark to haul some cargo on the I-10 interstate highway, CNBC has learned.

The trucks were previously noticed by a Reddit user, who photographed and shared images this week showing tractors emblazoned with the Embark logo and trailers painted with the Amazon Prime logo.

. . . .

Embark integrates its self-driving systems into Peterbilt semis, rather than building its own vehicles completely from scratch. Generally, Embark trucks operate on roads with test drivers on board.

. . . .

Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues said, “Embark moves freight for a number of major companies on the I-10, however we cannot discuss any company specifically as our relationships are confidential.”

Link to the rest at CNBC

Amazon’s Super Bowl Ad

30 January 2019

New Amazon Crossing Kids: Translating Picture Books Into English

25 January 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

Today (January 25), Amazon Publishing–which is the trade publishing house, not the self-publishing platform–has announced the creation of a new children’s book imprint: Amazon Crossing Kids.

The new imprint will focus on picture books in translation for children.

Needless to say, Amazon Crossing Kids has the benefit of a powerful and much-appreciated sibling imprint, Amazon Crossing, which today is the world book industry’s largest and most aggressive publisher of literature in translation.

. . . .

Amazon Crossing Kids may be welcomed by the translation community as a new chance to get culturally and thematically diverse content in front of the youngest readers.

In a prepared statement, the publisher of Amazon Publishing, Mikyla Bruder . . ., says that the new development “blends the missions of Amazon Crossing and Two Lions by introducing terrific books from around the globe to readers who are beginning to develop their worldview.

“Whether a title has a universal theme with regionally-influenced artistry or focuses on an aspect of local culture,” Bruder says, “our list will encompass a broad range of perspectives, styles, and characters that celebrate what makes us unique as well as what we have in common.”

. . . .

Led by editorial director Gabriella Page-Fort, Amazon Crossing has broken the translation barrier for many readers by using some of the business’ most skilled and best-known translators and by offering genre literature as well as literary fiction–a way to attract consumers to the work by genre rather than by language or cultural background.

The imprint doesn’t shy from literary fiction, but features historical fiction, romance, mystery, thrillers, and other work that great translation houses in the past tended to eschew. The same understanding of the market can be expected to inform the new Amazon Crossing Kids imprint. Skea will work with Page-Fort and with Two Lions editor Marilyn Brigham. The project is to engage a pool of authors, illustrators, and translators from many parts of the world.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Here’s a link to Amazon Crossings Kids

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