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An interview with Amazon’s first employee

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2016

Shel Kaphan was the first person Jeff Bezos hired to work on Amazon. In an interview with Craig Cannon, he talked about how he met Bezos, the early days of the site, and how he feels about the experience now.

At the time I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be building this website to run a bookstore and I haven’t done that before but it doesn’t sound so hard. When I’m done with that I’m not sure what I’ll do.” At that point there was no idea of doing anything but a bookstore. I thought maybe I would be able to go back to Santa Cruz and monitor it from there. I was pretty wrong about how the business would develop and how ambitious Jeff was. I didn’t know him at the time. We had just met.

I had forgotten that Amazon’s IPO happened less than two years after the site went live…can’t imagine something like that happening today.

We Work Remotely

Amazon is doing vehicles now

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2016

Amazon Vehicles

Amazon just launched Amazon Vehicles. I immediately went to see if their one-click ordering worked with $58,000 cars, but Vehicles is not a store but a shopping guide. (Amazon calls it a “car research destination and automotive community”.) You can sort by make, model, year, body style, MPG, etc. Here are all the electric vehicles, including the 2016 Tesla X. They have older cars too, like this 1965 Mustang Shelby GT-350 convertible, this 1961 Corvette and this 1972 El Camino. You can’t sort by price, but this Mercedes-Benz S65 was one of the most expensive cars I found ($234,050).

Having purchased a car in the last six months, I can see the appeal of being able to browse through all the different brands and makes of cars in a familiar interface. This will be a full-fledged store before too long, yes?

Amazon’s store for Kickstarter products

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2016

Amazon Kickstarter

Amazon has built a store specifically for products that started out on Kickstarter. What a great idea. Here is Kickstarter’s post about the initiative.

Getting a creative idea off the ground is often just the first step. Amazon Launchpad is a chance for creators to be discovered by new audiences, and to serve those audiences well by using Amazon’s retail expertise and infrastructure. The program offers custom product pages, comprehensive marketing support, and access to Amazon’s global fulfillment network.

A quick look through the store yielded some products that I’ve backed or featured on kottke.org: Electric Objects Digital Art Display, The Internet’s Own Boy, Richard Renaldi’s Touching Strangers, and Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding.

Amazon’s most interesting goods

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2016

Amazon Interesting Finds

Amazon has introduced a new feature called Interesting Finds. Like Canopy or Very Goods (or Svpply, RIP), it presents a curated view of Amazon’s vast selection. Looks great for finding gifts…wish it had a tab for kids stuff. (I got my 9-yo son a ladder ball set for his recent birthday. Success!)

Amazon’s ad-supported Android phone is only $50

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2016

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can buy the BLU R1 HD smartphone for only $50 (or double the memory and RAM for $10 more). The phone is unlocked so you don’t need to sign a 2-year phone contract, but Amazon’s ads and product offers display on the lock screen (just like they do for the Kindle). According to Joanna Stern at the WSJ, it’s no iPhone or Galaxy, but it’s great for the price.

No, the R1 doesn’t feel or look like a premium phone, but it also doesn’t feel like something you’d find on a Toys “R” Us shelf. The metal frame and the touch screen’s curved edges give it a weighty feel, while the black plastic casing is more firm Coke bottle than flimsy ShopRite water bottle. Even the power and volume buttons have a satisfying click.

The 5-inch, 720p screen is very bright and viewable at multiple angles, even outdoors. It’s not as crisp as the 1080p displays you’ll get on $200 Moto G4 or Honor 5X, but again…$50.

In only 9 years, we’ve gone from smartphones with touchscreens being magical to companies nearly giving them away. Back in 2009, John Walkenbach predicted that Kindles would be free by sometime in 2011.

The price for Amazon’s Kindle 2 has dropped again. It started at $359, and then was reduced to $299 last July. Now it’s $259.

If this price trend continues, it will be free by June, 2011. I’m actually serious about this. At some point, the Kindle will be free. It will probably be before June, 2011.

The cheapest Kindle is currently $80, so we haven’t quite gotten there yet. Which is a bit puzzling now that I’m thinking about it again. Amazon is famous for playing the long game. If compare the cost to giving away a free Kindle (or highly subsidized higher-end Kindle) to every Prime member who signs up or re-ups for two years vs. a) the revenue gained from the ebooks purchased by those customers, b) the revenue from new Prime members, and c) being able to offer a package which is basically free shipping on all Amazon orders + Netflix + Spotify + a ton of free books + a free Kindle…that’s gotta make good economic sense for them, right? I mean, unless so many Prime users already have Kindles that giving them to those that don’t doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, it’ll be an interesting race…will the smartphone beat the Kindle to free? (via df)

Amazon Prime Day deals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2016

Kubrick Blu Ray

Amazon’s fake sales holiday is back and like last year, there are some good things on offer if you poke around a little.

The Kindle Paperwhite is $90 (I have one of these and love it). Oh, and the regular Kindle is only $50. Oh and also, the Amazon Echo is $50 off as well.

A collection of Stanley Kubrick’s best movies on Blu-ray is $70 (down from $125).

A 55-inch 4K TV for $650. Is that a typo? Weren’t 4K TVs like $5000 just a couple of years ago?

This wireless b&w laser printer for $50 is a great deal. (I have this printer. It is solid.)

The professional size KitchenAid stand mixer can be had today for $249.

The Amazon Echo

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2016

Amazon Echo

It’s been very interesting to see the Amazon Echo not only succeed as a consumer product but to enter the realm of pop culture (see also also also). Somehow, the Echo is officially A Thing.

But Amazon doesn’t make Things. Apple makes Things…Amazon just sells stuff for cheap. Aside from the Kindle,1 many of their other consumer products have not taken off (the Fire Tablet, despite the 7” model selling for only $50 now) or have plain flopped (hello Fire Phone). But somehow, the Echo became a surprise hit.

When it launched, Amazon’s critics jumped to mock the company. Some called it a useless gimmick; others pointed to it as evidence of Amazon’s Orwellian tendencies. Then something weird happened: People decided they loved it. Amazon never releases data about how its products are selling, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners issued a report this month saying that Amazon had sold more than 3 million devices, with 1 million of those sales happening during the 2015 holiday season. About 35,000 people have reviewed the speaker on Amazon.com, with an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.

Perhaps even more important to Amazon is how dozens of independent developers are writing apps that work with the speaker’s voice controls. You can use Alexa to turn off the lights, ask it how much gas is left in your car, or order a pizza. This is doubly surprising given how far behind Apple and Google the company was in the area of voice control when it started. The Echo may have seemed like a superfluous toy at first, but it now looks like a way for Amazon to become the default choice in a whole new era in the way people interact with computers and the Internet.

One the Echo’s fans is my friend Anil Dash, who wrote about it last night:

More positively, Echo is meaningful because it’s also the first hugely popular smart device that’s connected to a place rather than a person. (Video game consoles are obviously dedicated to the living room, too, but they’re a purpose-specific device, and none have crossed over into general app platforms.) Apps for places are different than apps for people.

Tressie McMillan Cottom picked up on something Dash wrote about dads loving Echo and wrote about modern families and equality.

One of the great debates around family, the social institution, is that gender parity cannot be achieved unless men are held as responsible for managing the second shift as are women. And, data show that many men are making that shift. It’s not yet a staggering number. It’s not a tipping point. But there’s maybe enough data for social scientists to agree that its a nascent trend: some men are becoming more involved in the critical minutiae of the second shift.

Maybe Dads love Alexa because Dads are suddenly as responsible for ordering the paper towels as Moms.

I don’t have one and I don’t think I’ll buy one anytime soon, but all this interest sure does make me curious.

  1. The Kindle is sort of A Thing, but only because you can’t read the books sold for it using anyone else’s device or app…you have to use a Kindle or the Kindle app on iOS or Android. I mean, I love my Kindle, but if Amazon had any compelling competition in the e-reader space, it (or someone else’s reader) might be a lot better.

Amazon now offering monthly Prime subscriptions

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2016

Amazon is now offering the ability to subscribe to Prime and Prime Video monthly rather than just yearly. Prime Video is $8.99/mo (Netflix is going up to $9.99/mo soon) and the full Prime offering is $10.99/mo. A year of Prime is still $99.

In Prime Video, Amazon has built a worthy competitor to Netflix. And it actually might be better at this point. The stable of impressive Netflix originals aside (which Amazon is also doing *cough* Transparent *cough* best show in years), Amazon allows you to rent/buy digital movies not available for free streaming1, provides discounts for subscriptions to Showtime and Starz, and (if you opt for the full Prime) offers free shipping on most stuff in the store (as well as other benefits.) I sub to both services, but if I had to make a choice right now, I’d probably stick with Amazon.

  1. What Amazon should do, to really sweeten the deal (if the movie studios would allow such a thing), is offer Prime-only discounts on renting and buying digital movies and shows. So not only would you get a bunch of free streaming movies, you can rent new-to-video movies, and they’re cheaper than at iTunes. That’s something that Netflix can’t offer right now. I wonder if they’ll add a digital video store to their offering to compete?

On the declining ebook reading experience

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2015

When reports came out last month about declining ebook sales, many reasons were offered up, from higher pricing to the resurgence of bookstores to more efficient distribution of paper books to increased competition from TV’s continued renaissance, Facebook, Snapchat, and an embarrassment of #longread riches. What I didn’t hear a whole lot about was how the experience of reading ebooks and paper books compared, particularly in regard to the Kindle’s frustrating reading experience not living up to its promise. What if people are reading fewer ebooks because the user experience of ebook reading isn’t great?

Luckily, Craig Mod has stepped into this gap with a piece asking why digital books have stopped evolving. As Mod notes, paper books still beat out digital ones in many ways and the industry (i.e. Amazon) hasn’t made much progress in addressing them.

The object — a dense, felled tree, wrapped in royal blue cloth — requires two hands to hold. The inner volume swooshes from its slipcase. And then the thing opens like some blessed walking path into intricate endpages, heavystock half-titles, and multi-page die-cuts, shepherding you towards the table of contents. Behbehani utilitises all the qualities of print to create a procession. By the time you arrive at chapter one, you are entranced.

Contrast this with opening a Kindle book — there is no procession, and often no cover. You are sometimes thrown into the first chapter, sometimes into the middle of the front matter. Wherein every step of opening The Conference of the Birds fills one with delight — delight at what one is seeing and what one anticipates to come — opening a Kindle book frustrates. Often, you have to swipe or tap back a dozen pages to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

The Kindle is a book reading machine, but it’s also a portable book store. 1 Which is of great benefit to Amazon but also of some small benefit to readers…if I want to read, say, To Kill A Mockingbird right now, the Kindle would have it to me in less than a minute. But what if, instead, the Kindle was more of a book club than a store? Or a reading buddy? I bet something like that done well would encourage reading even more than instantaneous book delivery.

To me, Amazon seems exactly the wrong sort of company to make an ebook reader 2 with a really great reading experience. They don’t have the right culture and they don’t have the design-oriented mindset. They’re a low-margin business focused on products and customers, not books and readers. There’s no one with any real influence at Amazon who is passionately advocating for the reader. Amazon is leaving an incredible opportunity on the table here, which is a real bummer for the millions of people who don’t think of themselves as customers and turn to books for delight, escape, enrichment, transformation, and many other things. No wonder they’re turning back to paper books, which have a 500-year track record for providing such experiences.

PS. Make sure you read Mod’s whole piece…you don’t want to miss the bit about future MacArthur Genius Bret Victor’s magic bookshelf. <3

  1. And it’s a weird sort of store where you don’t really own what you buy…it’s really more of a long-term lease. Which would be fine…except that Amazon doesn’t call it that.

  2. And I still want an ereader that’s great for more than just books. Which is now the iPad/iPhone I guess?

Kingdom of books

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

Amazon has garnered an enormous share of the book market, and their “activities tend to reduce book prices, which is considered good for consumers.” But hundreds of writers (including Philip Roth and V. S. Naipaul) are trying to convince the Department of Justice that — regardless of the lower prices — Amazon’s monopoly is hurting consumers. From The New Yorker’s Vauhini Vara: Is Amazon creating a cultural monopoly?

The password sharing economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2015

Netflix and HBO know what you did last summer. And they know you’re still doing it this summer. The sharing of login credentials is so widespread that the big streaming players are losing hundreds of millions a year. So why don’t they stop us? Two reasons: It’s all about growth at this point. And no one has come up with a way to limit credential sharing without hurting the customer experience.

Amazon is a different kind of movie studio. It’s all about getting more people to become Prime members.

You can have the best technology, you can have the best business model, but if the storytelling isn’t amazing, it won’t matter. Nobody will watch. And then you won’t sell more shoes.

Amazon Prime Day deals?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2015

Today is Amazon Prime Day, a totally manufactured holiday invented to sell you stuff you don’t need…no, not like those other totally manufactured holidays — Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas — invented to sell you stuff you don’t need. Ok anyway, the deals are out but people are yawning about them a bit. But there are some nice bargains to be had, if you’re in the market (and are an Amazon Prime member): Kindle (for $49) (all gone!), Herschel backpacks, $10 credit for buying Amazon gift card multipacks, and get a free $30 gift card if you order $75 or more in Amazon Home Services. I’m eyeing that Kindle a little — my son is agitating for a hand-me-down of my current one — but wish it were a Paperwhite instead. Is the Paperwhite really worth the extra $70?

Update: Oh and coincidentally, the 55-gallon drum of lube is on sale today too for $1360, 46% off the usual price. There’s only three left though, so hurry!

Amazon finally fixes the Kindle’s text justification

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2015

Our national full-justification of text nightmare is over…Amazon has finally ditched fully justified text on the Kindle.

But the new app finally gives the boot to the hideous absolute justification of text that the Kindle’s been rocking since 2007. The new layout engine justifies text more like print typesetting. Even if you max out the font size on the new Kindle app, it will keep the spacing between words even, intelligently hyphenating words and spreading them between lines as need may be.

The layout engine also contains some beautiful new kerning options. They’re subtle, but once you see them, you can’t unsee them: for example, the way that the top and bottom of a drop cap on the Kindle now perfectly lines up with the tops and bottoms of its neighboring lines. Like I said, it’s a small detail, but one that even Apple’s iBooks and Google Play Books doesn’t manage to quite get right.

Huzzah! The company is still working through a backlog of converting titles to the new layout, so give it some time if the changes aren’t showing up. (via nextdraft)

Amazon drops gendered categories for toys

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2015

According to a friend of someone on Amazon’s taxonomy team, Amazon has removed the gender taxonomy of toys and games. Here’s the before and after:

Amazon Gender Toys

That’s not to say you still can’t shop for boys and girls toys on Amazon (jeez, those pages bum me out), but taking it out of the standard list of categories is a nice first step.

Now, how about you do something about this Amazon Mom thing? What’s wrong with Amazon Family?

Amazon’s goat grazing services

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2015

Amazon Goats

Included in Amazon’s recently launched Home Services is a goat grazing service, currently in beta.

Q: If goat grazing is right for my property, what would the service entail?

A: Once a pro has met with you to determine if unleashing some friendly goats on your property will help you get rid of any unwanted vegetation, you’ll receive a recommendation for how many goats will be loaned to you, how long those goats will keep you company, and how often a pro will come check on them to make sure they’re not attempting any fancy tricks to break free from the temporary fencing that will be placed around them. As they graze, they will likely leave behind some droppings, too, and you’ll get to keep this fertilizer as a friendly parting gift!

The goat grazing service isn’t available in Manhattan, but Amazon really does want to sell everything in the world, don’t they. Buy N Large, here we come. (via @mkonnikova)

Coloring books for adults

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2015

The two top-selling books on Amazon right now are a pair of coloring books for adults by Johanna Basford: Enchanted Forest and Secret Garden.

Basford Coloring Book

Basford Coloring Book

Basford Coloring Book

Fans of the books have been posting examples of their coloring-in online; this one is from occasionalartist:

Basford Coloring Book

What This Says™ about contemporary culture is left as an exercise to the reader. Right after you finish coloring your flowers, of course.

Update: I recently discovered that a pal of mine, Souris Hong, did a coloring book for adults a couple of years ago called Outside the Lines.

For anyone who loves creativity and contemporary art, or who simply loves the joy of coloring, comes Outside the Lines, a striking collection of illustrations from more than 100 creative masterminds, including animators, cartoonists, fine artists, graphic artists, illustrators, musicians, outsider artists, photographers, street artists, and video game artists. With contributions from Keith Haring, AIKO, Shepard Fairey, Exene Cervenka, Keita Takahashi, Jen Corace, Ryan McGinness, and more, Outside the Lines features edgy and imaginative pieces ready for you to add your own special touch.

And there’s going to be a sequel out in September.

Transparent streaming for free tomorrow!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2015

Transparent Show

All day on Saturday, Amazon will be streaming their acclaimed series Transparent for free (US-only probs) in celebration of the show’s wins at the Golden Globes (best TV series and best actor for Jeffrey Tambor). Here’s the press release.

“We’re incredibly proud of everyone involved in the making of Transparent-the team took a risk and it paid off,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. “Big kudos and congrats to Jill, Jeffrey, and all the cast and crew.”

Written, directed and executive produced by Emmy-nominee and 2013 Sundance Best Director winner Jill Soloway, Transparent is a 10-episode, half-hour novelistic series that explores family, identity, sex, and love.

Amazon is also offering a Saturday-only discount on 1-yr Amazon Prime subscriptions…$72 instead of the usual $99. I loved Transparent…if you’re not doing anything for 5 hours on Saturday, I recommend hopping on this.

The New Yorker’s new TV show

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2015

TV1 is the place to be. Amazon recently signed Woody Allen up to do a show. And today, The New Yorker debuts the first episode of their new show on Amazon: The New Yorker Presents, complete with a Alfred Hitchcock-esque silhouette on the title card to match the riff on the name of Hitch’s 50s TV program.

America’s most award-winning magazine comes to life in this new docu-series. Produced by Oscar & Emmy winner Alex Gibney, the pilot features a doc from Oscar winner Jonathan Demme based on Rachel Aviv’s article “A Very Valuable Reputation,” writer Ariel Levy interviewing artist Marina Abramovic, a sketch from Simon Rich and Alan Cumming, poetry read by Andrew Garfield, and cartoons by Emily Flake.

The first episode is free to watch for all. I watched the first five minutes and it’s promising and pretty much what you would expect.

  1. Is this what we’re going to call these things, television? How many people actually watch these Amazon shows on a television? Increasingly fewer and fewer, I’d guess.

Transparent

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2014

Transparent

I’m adding mine to the chorus of voices praising Transparent, the Amazon Original Series starring Jeffrey Tambor, aka Arrested Development’s Pop Pop. Tambor plays a retired college professor who is transitioning to living as a woman. Each episode is 30 minutes long and the pacing is sitcom-like, but the show is equally comedic and dramatic. The show started off kind of slow for me but got better and better as the season went on. Here’s a trailer.

The first episode is free to watch but for the rest you’ll need an Amazon Prime subscription1 (for which they offer a 30-day trial). Highly recommended, Tambor is amazing. Oh, and they’re doing a second season.

  1. I wonder how effective this tactic is in driving new Prime subscriptions. It’s weird that you can’t just buy the whole season of the show for $20 or something. I would love to see their internal analysis of how much revenue each Prime member brings in over X number of years versus potential lost revenue from direct sales by non-members.

Amazon Primed

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2014

Photographer Noah Kalina (of Everyday fame) keeps a blog of his purchases from Amazon called Amazon Primed. Recently documented purchases include a Weber grill and a shoulder mount for a camera. Now Kalina has turned his blog into a book published by Amazon.

Amazon’s robotic fulfillment army

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2014

Amazon’s newest fulfillment center1 features hundreds of robots. Watch them work in an intricate ballet of customer service through increased speed of delivery and greater local selection. Also, ROBOTS!

Now imagine this with McDonald’s hamburgers and every other thing we buy and watch Humans Need Not Apply again. (via @tcarmody)

  1. Fulfillment center. How’s that for a metaphor for one of the world’s largest retailers?

Kindle Voyage

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2014

Kindle Voyage

Amazon updated their line of Kindles and tablets and the Kindle Voyage looks like great top-of-the-line dedicated ereader. The Verge loves it. I’m still rocking a third-generation Kindle and have been pondering an upgrade to a Paperwhite, but the Voyage is very tempting.

Something only Apple can do

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2014

An instant classic John Gruber post about the sort of company Apple is right now and how it compares in that regard to its four main competitors: Google, Samsung, Microsoft, and Amazon. The post is also about how Apple is now firmly a Tim Cook joint, and the company is better for it.

When Cook succeeded Jobs, the question we all asked was more or less binary: Would Apple decline without Steve Jobs? What seems to have gone largely unconsidered is whether Apple would thrive with Cook at the helm, achieving things the company wasn’t able to do under the leadership of the autocratic and mercurial Jobs.

Jobs was a great CEO for leading Apple to become big. But Cook is a great CEO for leading Apple now that it is big, to allow the company to take advantage of its size and success. Matt Drance said it, and so will I: What we saw last week at WWDC 2014 would not have happened under Steve Jobs.

This is not to say Apple is better off without Steve Jobs. But I do think it’s becoming clear that the company, today, might be better off with Tim Cook as CEO. If Jobs were still with us, his ideal role today might be that of an eminence grise, muse and partner to Jony Ive in the design of new products, and of course public presenter extraordinaire. Chairman of the board, with Cook as CEO, running the company much as he actually is today.

This bit on the commoditization of hardware, and Apple’s spectacularly successful fight against it, got me thinking about current events. Here’s Gruber again:

Apple’s device-centric approach provides them with control. There’s a long-standing and perhaps everlasting belief in the computer industry that hardware is destined for commoditization. At their cores, Microsoft and Google were founded on that belief - and they succeeded handsomely. Microsoft’s Windows empire was built atop commodity PC hardware. Google’s search empire was built atop web browsers running on any and all computers. (Google also made a huge bet on commodity hardware for their incredible back-end infrastructure. Google’s infrastructure is both massive and massively redundant - thousands and thousands of cheap hardware servers running custom software designed such that failure of individual machines is completely expected.)

This is probably the central axiom of the Church of Market Share - if hardware is destined for commoditization, then the only thing that matters is maximizing the share of devices running your OS (Microsoft) or using your online services (Google).

The entirety of Apple’s post-NeXT reunification success has been in defiance of that belief - that commoditization is inevitable, but won’t necessarily consume the entire market. It started with the iMac, and the notion that the design of computer hardware mattered. It carried through to the iPod, which faced predictions of imminent decline in the face of commodity music players all the way until it was cannibalized by the iPhone.

And here’s David Galbraith tweeting about the seemingly unrelated training that London taxi drivers receive, a comment no doubt spurred by the European taxi strikes last week, protesting Uber’s move into Europe:

Didn’t realize London taxi drivers still have to spend years learning routes. That’s just asking to be disrupted http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicabs_of_the_United_Kingdom#The_Knowledge

Here’s the relevant bit from Wikipedia about The Knowledge:

It is the world’s most demanding training course for taxicab drivers, and applicants will usually need at least twelve ‘appearances’ (attempts at the final test), after preparation averaging 34 months, to pass the examination.

Uber, in this scenario, is attempting to be Microsoft in the 1980s and early 90s. They’re implementing their software layer (the Uber service) on commodity hardware, which includes not only iPhones & Android phones, mass-produced cars of any type, and GPS systems but also, and crucially, the drivers themselves. Uber is betting that a bunch of off-the-shelf hardware, “ordinary” drivers, and their self-service easy-pay dispatch system will provide similar (or even better) results than a fleet of taxi drivers each with three years of training and years of experience. It is unclear to me what the taxi drivers can do in this situation to emulate the Apple of 1997 in making that commoditization irrelevant to their business prospects. Although when it comes to London in particular, Uber may have miscalculated: in a recent comparison at rush hour, an Uber cab took almost three times as long and was 64% more expensive than a black cab.

Hachette job: Amazon Unprime

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2014

Internet mega-retailer Amazon is trying, mob-style, to pressure Hachette for better terms on ebooks by disappearing the publisher’s book from amazon.com.

The retailer began refusing orders late Thursday for coming Hachette books, including J.K. Rowling’s new novel. The paperback edition of Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” — a book Amazon disliked so much it denounced it — is suddenly listed as “unavailable.”

In some cases, even the pages promoting the books have disappeared. Anne Rivers Siddons’s new novel, “The Girls of August,” coming in July, no longer has a page for the physical book or even the Kindle edition. Only the audio edition is still being sold (for more than $60). Otherwise it is as if it did not exist.

No question about it: this sucks on Amazon’s part and demonstrates the degree to which the company’s top priority isn’t customer service. Better customer service in this case would be to offer these books for sale. I noticed another less nefarious instance of this the other day: because Amazon is offering a streaming version of The Lego Movie (which presumably has a high profit margin), they are not currently taking pre-orders of the The Lego Movie Blu-ray (out on June 17), even though Barnes and Noble has it for pre-order and Amazon has no problem offering for pre-order a Blu-ray of The Nutty Professor that isn’t out until September. I guess it makes sense to drive sales to the high-margin streaming offering but not letting people pre-order what is likely to be a very popular Blu-ray is baffling.

Anyway, if this trend continues, I’d look for Amazon to start more aggressively promoting the Kindle editions of books, to the point of manipulating available inventory as with Hachette. That is, if they’re not doing it already.

HBO shows on Amazon Prime today

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2014

Today’s the day the Amazon/HBO deal kicks in, whereby Prime subscribers can stream huge swaths of HBO’s back catalog of shows for free. Currently available shows include Deadwood, The Wire, The Sopranos, and Boardwalk Empire.

HBO shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2014

HBO is licensing some of their shows exclusively to Amazon for streaming on their Prime Instant Video service. Here’s the scoop:

Beginning May 21, Amazon Prime members will have unlimited streaming access to:

- All seasons of revered classics such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome and Six Feet Under, and of recent favorites such as Eastbound & Down, Enlightened and Flight of the Conchords

- Epic miniseries, including Angels in America, Band of Brothers, John Adams, The Pacific and Parade’s End

- Select seasons of current series such as Boardwalk Empire, Treme and True Blood

Game of Thrones and True Detective are notably absent from the deal. But Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to stream all of the shows above for free. (via deadline)

Amazon’s drug dealer scale

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2014

Drug Scale

If you buy this digital scale on Amazon, the site assumes you might be a drug dealer. Nestled among the calibration weights listed in the Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought section are tobacco pipe screens, rolling papers, powders for cutting drugs (I assume), zipper bags of all sizes (including some decorated with golden skulls), empty pill capsules, and even a Dr Pepper can safe.

See also the mega-packs of whipped cream chargers which are frequently purchased with balloons for the purpose of getting high. (via mr)

George Takei, top Amazon reviewer

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2013

George Takei, in case you don’t know, played Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek series. Nowadays, he is a relentless tweeter of internet memes. But he’s also a top-1000 reviewer at Amazon, where he writes humorous reviews of some of retail giant’s most unusual products. Like an inflatable human hamster ball:

When Brad asked what I wanted for my birthday, I said “jet pack,” just like I have for the past four years. Now, Brad thinks I’m too far into my “Golden Years” to strap on any kind of propulsion unit, so each year his gifts have been disappointing: A bow-tie. A snuggie. Gel insoles.

Imagine my delight when I came home to the ZORB HUMAN HAMSTER BALL in our back yard. “Not as good a jet pack,” Brad noted, shrugging. “But safer.”

Brad was a bit winded after blowing it up for six hours (I recommend an air pump), so we left it inflated. We strapped it to our car roof using the 120 left-over bungee cords from our home bungee jumping kit (I would NOT recommend this product). We then drove up to the Hollywood Hills sign for a test roll.

And uranium ore (real radioactive uranium ore):

Brad and I figured it would be poetic justice to tuck one of these babies, along with a DVD of hard core gay porn, inside a gift basket sent to our favorite Iranian madman, ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during his last rant-filled visit to the UN. Just a small token of our esteem and thanks, you understand, for torturing and hanging those two gay teens.

And my personal favorite Amazon item, the 55-gallon drum of lube:

Brad and I will be Grand Marshals at this year’s San Diego Pride Parade, and we were looking for just the right touch to add a bit of pizazz to our appearance. So when we stumbled across the PASSION NATURAL WATER BASED LUBRICANT - 55 GALLON drum, we felt we’d struck gold: “Just enough volume to soak an entire parade of spectators, and yet fits easily in our float.” Double win.

Newt Gingrich has actually reviewed many more items on Amazon, but his are a lot less fun.

Amazon Prime Air

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2013

You’re probably sick of this news already, but Amazon says they’re working on 30-minute package delivery by drone.

The goal of this new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.

Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations.

Back in January, riffing off a piece by John Robb, I speculated that Amazon would be an early mover into delivery-by-drone:

More likely that Amazon will buy a fledgling drone delivery company in the next year or two and begin rolling out same-day delivery of items weighing less than 2 pounds in non-urban areas where drone flights are permitted.

Tyler Cowen is already out of the gate this morning talking about the economics of drone delivery:

You would buy smaller size packages and keep smaller libraries at home and in your office. Bookshelf space would be freed up, you would cook more with freshly ground spices, the physical world would stand a better chance of competing with the rapid-delivery virtual world, and Amazon Kindles would decline in value.

But for now, Amazon Prime Air sure is providing lots of Cyber Monday PR for Amazon.

Amazon Source

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2013

Amazon introduced their Amazon Source program today, which enables indie booksellers to sell Kindles and receive a cut of future Kindle book sales made on those devices.

Retailers that are part of the program can use Amazon Source (http://source.amazon.com) to purchase Kindle devices and accessories for resale. Retailers can choose between two programs:

1) Bookseller Program: Earn 10% of the price of every Kindle book purchased by their customers from their Kindle devices for two years from device purchase. This is in addition to the discount the bookseller receives when purchasing the devices and accessories from Amazon.

2) General Retail Program: Receive a larger discount when purchasing the devices from Amazon, but do not receive revenue from their customers’ Kindle book purchases.

Amazon Source aside, I’ve often wondered if an independent bookstore could sell their usual selection of paper books but also sell Kindle books to those who wanted them. The bookstore would basically buy the books as gifts for the customer through Amazon and take the affiliate fee (which is 8.5% with sufficient monthly sales volume) as profit. (The fee on magazine subscriptions is 25%!) I love frequenting indie bookshops — the browsing experience of a good bookstore is still far superior to that on Amazon or a Kindle — but I don’t buy paper books anymore. So I usually leave bookstores with a list of 2-3 books I later buy on Amazon…it would be nice if the bookstore gets a cut of that action. If it worked well enough, the physical books in the store would be more like advertisements for the digital copies than salable items and you could change how you stock the store…less overall inventory or a more varied inventory with far less overhead.

Knowing next to nothing about the economics of bookstores, I don’t know how well that would actually work, but it would certainly be an interesting experiment. (via @tcarmody)