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Amazon to add 30,000 part-time positions over the next year

Flexible positions in warehousing and virtual customer service are being added

Back in January, Amazon promised that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The announcement was partly a reaction to President Trump’s stance on promoting domestic business, but already the company seems well on its way to achieving its goal.

In February, the company announced plans to build a $1.5 billion cargo airline hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, a venture which would reportedly create 2,700 positions, with 600 being full-time. At the same time, the company said that it was looking to open more warehouses in Texas, Florida, California, and New Jersey, which would also require more workers.

Now, Amazon has announced yet another plan to create 30,000 part-time fulfillment center and customer service jobs, according to Business Wire. If brought to fruition, the move would increase the company’s part-time work staff by approximately 75%.

Flexible conditions

The majority of the part-time workers will be stationed at warehouses and distribution centers across the U.S., but the company said that 5,000 workers will have the opportunity to work from home as virtual customer service agents.

Those who secure one of the latter positions are guaranteed benefits – including disability, life, dental, and vision insurance – if they work at least 20 hours per week. For those seeking an education, Amazon’s Career Choice program will also pay 95% of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, even if those skills don’t apply to relevant jobs at the company.

Tom Weiland, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide customer service, points out that these part-time positions can be ideal for those who need adaptable work conditions that fit their lifestyle.

"There are lots of people who want or need a flexible job — whether they're a military spouse, a college student or a parent — and we're happy to empower these talented people no matter where they happen to live," he said.

“We’re finding that roles with Virtual Customer Service are particularly attractive to military spouses who want to continue working and parenting, even if their spouse is deployed or the family is relocated, as often happens with military families. Wounded, injured or ill military veterans and others with mobility challenges are also enjoying these opportunities to work from home with Amazon. Both active duty and retired service men and women support our country and we are happy to support them.”

Amazon has stated that all 30,000 jobs will become available over the next year. Consumers can find a job with the company by visiting its website here.

Back in January, Amazon promised that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The announcement was partly a reaction to President Trump’s...

Amazon drops appeal of unauthorized charge case

Parents of kids who made in-app purchases in line to get refunds

After a year of appeals, Amazon is finally ready to accept a federal court's finding that it is responsible for in-app purchases made by children.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that the end of the appeals process will mean parents whose children used apps to make unauthorized Amazon purchases will receive refunds.

It was a year ago that a federal court ruled that Amazon charged consumers for in-app purchases made by children who were using mobile apps like online games, downloaded from Amazon's app store.

The court found that Amazon received many complaints from parents about surprise in-app charges incurred by children. The judge in the case said what Amazon disclosed about the possibility of in-app charges within otherwise “free” apps was not sufficient to inform consumers – especially children – about the charges.

The FTC says that because Amazon has dropped its appeal, the refund process will begin “shortly.” The agency says parents stand to get more than $70 million, which was the amount of in-app charges made between November 2011 and May 2016.

“This case demonstrates what should be a bedrock principle for all companies — you must get customers’ consent before you charge them,” said Thomas B. Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers affected by Amazon’s practices can now be compensated for charges they didn’t expect or authorize.”

The FTC previously took action against Google and Apple, related to unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children. Those companies ended up making refunds.

Details on how to secure a refund will be announced soon, the FTC says, so parents should stay tuned.

After a year of appeals, Amazon is finally ready to accept a federal court's finding that it is responsible for in-app purchases made by children.The F...

Amazon proposes brands bypass brick-and-mortar retailers and bring their products online

The company has invited executives to a meeting to discuss the possibility

In a move that would secure its place in the $800 billion food and packaged goods market, Amazon is trying to convince some of the world’s biggest brands to start shipping their products directly to online shoppers and bypass notable chain stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco.

The company has sent invitations to the executives of prominent packaged goods makers, asking them to come to its headquarters in Seattle in May to hear its proposal, according to a Bloomberg report.

“Times are changing. . . Amazon strongly believes that supply chains designed to serve the direct-to-consumer business have the power to bring improved customer experiences and global efficiency. To achieve this requires a major shift in thinking,” the invitations read.

Delivering straight to doorsteps

If successful, Amazon would topple the current structure that packaged goods makers have with brick-and-mortar retailers and completely change the way that many products are designed, made, packaged, and shipped.

Manufacturers would no longer have to worry about making sure the product stands out on a grocery aisle shelf, since consumers would no longer have to stroll those aisles. The Bloomberg report points out that many items could be packaged according to new shipping needs; laundry detergent could come in sturdier, leak-proof containers and food items could come in durable and simpler packaging. Supply could also be controlled by plants that produce items based on individual needs instead of just filling trucks with inventory.  

Experts have pointed out that online grocery sales have mostly floundered in recent years, but such a drastic move could represent a big change in the way that manufacturers sell their products and consumers shop for their essentials.

“Most of these people haven’t been interested in e-commerce because e-commerce has been such a small piece of their overall sales,” says Melissa Burdick, vice president of e-commerce at The Mars Agency marketing firm. “But we’ve reached a tipping point. We’re at a time when companies are ready to start figuring this stuff out.”

Fear of missing out

So, how likely is it that packaged goods companies will be onboard with the idea? While it might be understandable to think that companies might want to retain the status quo, many might be loath to dismiss Amazon and then miss out on any future success.

"There was a big perceived penalty for missing the boat, fear of missing out on growth," says Jim Hertel, senior vice president at the marketing firm Inmar Inc. "Fear, more than anything else, may compel these companies to pay attention," adds analyst Ken Cassar.

Of course, brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t likely to go down without a fight. Many chains have already elected to provide online shopping options to blunt the impact of online shopping sites like Amazon, and it’s easy to point out that the proposal hasn’t yet addressed who will ship all of items (though Amazon does have the means of fulfilling those services.)

Regardless of how the plan shakes out, it’s at least worth noting that the idea of innovation in the industry isn’t dormant. What that means for shoppers remains to be seen. 

In a move that would secure its place in the $800 billion food and packaged goods market, Amazon is trying to convince some of the world’s biggest brands t...

Amazon announces plans for a $1.5 billion cargo airline hub

The move may help cut costs and guarantee greater delivery speeds

There were a few raised eyebrows earlier this month when Amazon announced that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The widely popular online retailer had plans to open additional warehouses in Texas, Florida, California, and New Jersey – but another initiative may bring thousands of jobs to Kentucky.

The company announced today that it will be building a cargo airline hub in the northern part of the state at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Estimates show that as many as 2,700 people may be employed at the location eventually, but officials say only 600 full-time positions will be initially available. The created jobs are expected to include positions in personnel, piloting, ground support, management, and maintenance.

“As we considered places for the long-term home for our air hub operations, Hebron quickly rose to the top of the list with a large, skilled workforce, centralized location with great connectivity to our nearby fulfillment locations and an excellent quality of living for employees. We feel strongly that with these qualities as a place to do business, our investments will support Amazon and customers well into the future,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations.

Greater delivery speeds

It’s no secret that Amazon has been trying to create its own air transportation network. After revealing its first branded cargo plane last August, Clark commented that doing so would “[expand] our capacity to ensure great delivery speeds for our Prime members for years to come.”

The Hebron hub received approval to lease 900 acres of land, and it would eventually house 40 Amazon Prime planes that would transport packages between warehouses. The Cincinnati Business Courier estimated that the project would cost approximately $1.49 billion, with Amazon standing to receive as many as $40 million in tax incentives from local government.

The move may prove to be beneficial to consumers across the U.S., who may experience faster delivery times after the hub is up and running. Amazon should also be able to cut some of its costs associated with working with third parties, although the company says its cargo planes are only meant to supplement cargo carriers.

Analyst Colin Sebastian estimated that the company will see a $400 billion-plus market opportunity for delivery, freight forwarding, and contract logistics. However, it has not yet announced a start date for the hub.

There were a few raised eyebrows earlier this month when Amazon announced that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The widely popular...

Amazon vows to create 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018

After earlier criticisms, CEO Jeff Bezos says President-elect Trump's plan to create jobs could pay huge dividends

One of the primary campaign points for President-elect Donald Trump was creating jobs and keeping businesses in the U.S. Many companies caught the new Commander in Chief’s ire while he was on the campaign trail, but a scuffle between Trump and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was notable.

The president-elect accused Bezos in a May interview of buying the Washington Post in order to influence the political landscape. Later on, Bezos fired shots at the businessman, saying that Trump’s behavior “erodes democracy around the edges.”

Nevertheless, it seems that Amazon will be doing just what Trump wants in the coming years by creating more U.S.-based jobs. The retailer announced on Thursday that it has a plan to create over 100,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. by mid-2018, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Expanding and creating jobs

Amazon says that many of the new jobs will be located in Texas, Florida, California, New Jersey, and other areas where it is creating additional warehouses. During the third quarter of 2016, Amazon built another two dozen warehouses, bringing the total global number up to 150.

Additionally, the company brought on around 120,000 seasonal workers during the holidays in the U.S., many of which are staying on to fill expanded positions, the company said. Other than warehouse staff, Amazon says it will also be filling positions in engineer and software development.

“Innovation is one of our guiding principles at Amazon, and it’s created hundreds of thousands of American jobs,” said Bezos.

Change of tune

In a bit of reversal, Bezos has also shown some support for Trump and his plan for creating jobs after meeting with him in December. During the meeting, which featured a number of Silicon Valley executives, Trump promised to work with tech companies to create fair-trade deals and help foster innovation.

“[Trump’s plan] would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere,” said Bezos in a statement.

One of the primary campaign points for President-elect Donald Trump was creating jobs and keeping businesses in the U.S. Many companies caught the new Comm...

Consumers should be skeptical of 'best prices' provided by Amazon, report says

Items bought directly through Amazon don't include shipping costs, while those purchased from non-affiliated third parties do

In June, we reported that sometimes consumers had to do a little extra work to find the best prices when shopping on Amazon. Researchers from Northeastern University pointed out that not all items that consumers buy on the site come directly from Amazon, so what pops up first in your search may not necessarily be the best price.

Now, a new report by ProPublica shows that price comparisons on the site may be even more complicated. The organization alleges that Amazon fixes the results of its price-comparison pages so that items sold directly by Amazon, or by merchants who pay the company to ship products on their behalf, are given priority in the search results.

This is a potentially huge problem since these comparison pages are supposed to let consumers find the best deals for the products they want.

Shipping costs

The report cites an example of trying to find the best deal on Loctite super glue. After entering in the request, results for different options were spit back out. One result showed the product being sold for $6.75 from a company in Texas with free shipping, while another similar offer showed the product going for $7.27 with free shipping from a company in Ohio.

However, the result that ranked first was being offered by Amazon itself for an even higher price, at $7.80. While this price wasn’t all that much higher than the previous two options at first glance, the researchers found that the offer did not include free shipping.

With the additional cost of the shipping, the price came out to $14.31 before taxes, slightly less than double the price of the previous two offers. The researchers found that this was a common part of Amazon’s algorithmic pricing. Products sold by third-party merchants who were not a part of Amazon’s shipping service were ranked by the cost of the product and the shipping fee, while those sold by Amazon and affiliated parties were ranked without the shipping fee included.

Availability of free shipping

Amazon has provided some explanation for the discrepancy, saying that the vast majority of its products are eligible for free shipping if a consumer is a Prime member or signs up for Super Saver Shipping.

“With Prime and Super Saver Shipping (which requires no membership and ships orders above $49 for free), the vast majority of our items – 9 out of 10 – can ship for free. The sorting algorithms the article refers to are designed for that 90% of items ordered, where shipping costs do not apply,” said Amazon in a statement.

However, as the statement alludes to, free shipping is contingent on a couple of factors. If a consumer is not a Prime member and does not create an order that totals more than $49, then the items they search for may not be in optimal order for them to find a deal. 

In June, we reported that sometimes consumers had to do a little extra work to find the best prices when shopping on Amazon. Researchers from Northeastern...

Amazon unveils its first branded cargo plane

The retail giant plans to have a fleet of 40 cargo planes

Amazon's plans for drone delivery have gotten a lot of attention, but the big draw in Seattle today is Amazon One -- a Boeing 767-300 cargo plane that is the first of a planned fleet of 40.

Amazon currently has 11 dedicated airplanes moving merchandise around the world, but Amazon One is the first one to be painted in the company's own livery. The giant airplane is on display today at Seafair, Seattle's annual air show. 

“Creating an air transportation network is expanding our capacity to ensure great delivery speeds for our Prime members for years to come,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. “I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the inaugural flight than in our hometown at Seafair alongside Amazon employees and Seattle residents.”

Amazon's distribution operation includes 125 fulfillment centers and more than 20 sorting centers where the compny uses algorithms, robotics, machine learning, and other wizardry to increase delivery speeds, the company said.

Amazon One is one of 40 airplanes that Amazon has agreed to lease through air cargo partners Atlas Air and ATSG. In an ode to its Prime members, Amazon’s first airplane in its dedicated fleet features a tail number made up of a Prime number.

Amazon's plans for drone delivery have gotten a lot of attention, but the big draw in Seattle today is Amazon One -- a Boeing 767-300 cargo plane that is t...

Amazon reports record orders on Prime Day

Consumers snapped up two million toys and a million pairs of shoes

Amazon.com says Tuesday's second annual Prime Day was bigger than last year and set a record for orders worldwide.

The online retailer says global orders were 60% higher than last year while U.S. orders rose 50%. Amazon says it also set a record for orders for Amazon devices, including Fire TV, Fire tablets, Kindle e-readers and Alexa-enabled devices. The company did not release any sales or revenue figures.

Amazon launched the promotion for the first time in 2015, picking a day in July to serve as sort of a precursor to Black Friday. The purpose is to capture consumer holiday shopping dollars before they are spent anywhere else.

It also serves to promote Amazon Prime, since shoppers had to be members to take advantage of the deals.

Devices big sellers

The company said it sold over two and a half times more Amazon Fire TV devices Tuesday than it did on last year's Prime Day. It said the Fire TV Stick was the best-selling Amazon device.

It said Prime customers bought more than two million toys and more than a million pairs of shoes. It took orders for 90,000 TV sets and hundreds of thousands of e-readers.

In the U.S., it was also the biggest single day for sales of Amazon Echo, the retailer's voice-controlled audio system.

How good were the deals?

The holiday shopping site BestBlackFriday.com live blogged Prime Day as it unfolded, comparing the deals to the savings consumers can get on Black Friday itself. Here is some of what it found:

By selling the Kitchen Aid 6-quarter mixer for $248.99, it beat Black Friday by $151. By selling the Kindle Paperwhite for $89.99, it beat Black Friday by $10.

It sold the XBox – One 1TB Console with The Division Bundle, a $50 Amazon Gift Card, Rainbow Six Siege, the Xbox One Special Edition Dusk Shadow Wireless Controller, and Forza Horizon 2 for $299, beating Black Friday by $50.

But there were a few items where Prime Day prices were not lower. The TCL 32D2700 32-Inch 720p LED TV went for $99.99 on Prime Day, $25 more than Black Friday. It sold the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W for $69.99, $20 more than JC Penney's Black Friday last year.

Amazon.com says Tuesday's second annual Prime Day was bigger than last year and set a record for orders worldwide.The online retailer says global order...

Amazon promises more TV deals on Prime Day

Shopping expert expects retailer to correct some mistakes from last year

Amazon.com is releasing a few details about its second annual Prime Day, a July 12 shopping event that is designed to get consumers doing their Christmas shopping in the middle of the summer.

The company says the special shopping day will feature over 100,000 items, with new deals announced every five minutes throughout the day. As was the case last year, consumers must be Prime members in order to take advantage of the bargains.

“Prime Day is a unique opportunity to discover new items and great deals, on top of our already low prices,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President of Amazon Prime. "Following last year’s record sales, we have dramatically increased the inventory behind many deals.”

Amazon racked up record sales on last year's Prime Day, but Phil Dengler, principal at Jones-Dengler Marketing and operator of the website BestBlackFriday.com, says the retailer has plenty of room for improvement.

Irrelevant items

“Shoppers were largely disappointed with Prime Day last year because of the sheer number of irrelevant items — beard growers, toilet paper, lighter sleeves and other items that no one really wanted,” Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. “While there were some great deals, ones that were comparable or even better than Black Friday, they sold out within a matter of minutes.”

Amazon has already promised the deal inventory of TV sets in the promotion will be nearly twice the number available on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Dengler says that means consumers should be able to snag some pretty good deals, if last year's prices are any indication. In fact, he says consumers with TVs on their holiday list might do well to shop in July, rather than November.

“Last year, they sold a 32" HDTV for $75 and a 40" HDTV for $115,” Dengler said. “Both of those prices were better than the top Black Friday prices at the time.”

But he says its unlikely TV deals will be available throughout the day, so consumers will have to pay close attention.

Competitors will probably react

Dengler says Prime Day looks promising so far, and will even get consumers better deals from Amazon's competitors. He notes that Walmart has announce a 30-day free trial of its free two-day shipping service. He expects Walmart will also roll out some serious deals of its own on July 12 as well.

But what if you aren't a Prime member? Dengler says it probably pays to take advantage of Amazon's 30-day free trial.

“If someone signs up for a Prime trial and finds that the service is not what they are looking for, they can simply cancel after 30 days and still be able to take part in Prime Day,” he said.

The bottom line, Dengler says, is Amazon's Prime Day should serve as a profitable way for consumers to get a head start on holiday shopping.

Amazon.com is releasing a few details about its second annual Prime Day, a July 12 shopping event that is designed to get consumers doing their Christmas s...

Finding the best price on Amazon

Researchers say it takes a little extra work

Brick and mortar retailers continue to lose business to Amazon.com, which works to make the buying process easy and seamless. You search for a product, it pops up in the buy box, and you add it to your cart.

But if it is too easy, you may not be getting the best price. At least, that's the conclusion of marketing researchers at Northeastern University.

Keep in mind that not everything you buy comes directly from Amazon. The company works with many third-party sellers to provide products, especially for specialty items.

Algorithmic pricing

When you search for a product, what pops up first might not carry the lowest price. The study, led by Northeastern's Christo Wilson, discovered that Amazon is much more likely to feature sellers in the buy box who adjust prices using an automated system called algorithmic pricing. And a consumer should not assume this seller has the lowest price because Wilson says, more often than not, it doesn't.

"For example, we found that 60% of sellers using algorithmic pricing have prices that are higher than the lowest price for a given product,” Wilson said.

He admits the price will not be much higher. In fact, 70% of the time the price in the buy box was only a dollar higher. The rest of the time, though, other sellers had the same product $20 to $60 cheaper.

To find the lowest price, Wilson says you have to take the extra step of clicking through the “other sellers on Amazon” button under the “add to cart” button.

Anyone can use algorithmic pricing

More companies are using algorithmic pricing than you might think, and they don't have to be all that large and sophisticated. For a relatively small fee, any independent seller can obtain the services of a firm that will adjust its prices in real time.

The Northeastern team found these third party sellers have access to a number of different pricing strategies that include finding the lowest price offered by competitors and going above it by a set dollar amount or percentage.

"Amazon has a relatively low number of algo sellers--from 2% to 10%," Wilson said. "But they cover almost a third of the best-selling products offered by outside merchants, so the impact is large."

Amazon has its own system for selecting companies whose products get featured in the buy box, but Wilson says consumers can't assume the product has the lowest price. The chief take away from the study, he says, is that consumers need to take the time to look through the other seller options and consider them carefully.

Brick and mortar retailers continue to lose business to Amazon.com, which works to make the buying process easy and seamless. You search for a product, it...

Amazon launching its own perishable brands, reports say

Everything from soup to nuts may be included under the new house brands

It would almost be easier to write a news story about what Amazon is not doing rather than trying to keep up with everything it is doing. In the latest development, the Wall Street Journal says Amazon will soon roll out its own private-label perishable foods under a variety of brands.

The new house brands include Happy Belly, Wickedly Prime and Mama Bear, according to the Journal. They include everything from nuts to coffee to baby food to vitamins.  

Private-label brands are nothing new, of course, but they are increasingly popular at supermarkets and specialty outlets. Trader Joe's, in particular, sells almost exclusively its own brands and has succeeded in positioning them as superior, or at least more economical, to competing national brands.

Houseful of house brands

Amazon, of course, already has a houseful of house brands, including Pinzon linens and Elements baby wipes. Its AmazonBasics line includes hundreds of gadgets and convenience items, including audio cables, computer mouse units, and even dumbbells. It recently introduced new fashion lines including Lark & Ro and North Eleven.

Retailers like store brands because they're more profitable. Consumers once regarded what were once called "generic" items as lower quality but now mostly accept the notion that they are backed by the retailer, whose brand is often better etched into customers' consciousness than national brands once were.

Amazon is itself one of the most powerful brands on earth today, ranking at number twelve on Forbes' listings of the world's most valuable brands. The Kindle line of e-readers and tablets is also a well-established brand these days.

Maybe someday Amazon will launch its own brand of car. It could call it the Kardle. 

It would almost be easier to write a news story about what Amazon is not doing rather than trying to keep up with everything it is doing. In the latest dev...

Court finds Amazon liable for unauthorized in-app charges

It's a case that's very similar to the FTC's action against Apple

When a child uses an app to charge things to Amazon without permission, the liability is Amazon's, not the parents'.

That's the conclusion of a U.S. District Court judge who sided with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its complaint against the online retail giant.

Amazon operates an Appstore in which customers can view and download apps to use on Android mobile devices or Kindle Fire tablets. These apps can take many forms. Some include functions that allow users to play games, watch movies, or read books. Some are free while some charge per download.

Source of confusion

The FTC got involved because it said the evidence showed consumers had difficulty understanding which apps involved charges and which were completely free. Confusion arose in particular, the FTC claimed, when consumers downloaded free apps and then made purchases while using them – charges known as “in-app purchases.”

For example, the court found a child using a “free” app might be prompted to use money – which might appear imaginary and part of the game – to buy things. In reality, the court found, they were spending real money.

The judge in the case also found that Amazon received complaints from parents about these in-app purchases, claiming they were unauthorized. The court ultimately found Amazon' disclosures about free apps potentially carrying charges were not sufficient.

Full refunds?

“We are pleased the federal judge found Amazon liable for unfairly billing consumers for unauthorized in-app purchases by children,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, said in a statement. “We look forward to making a case for full refunds to consumers as a result of Amazon’s actions.”

What remains to be determined is exactly how much in the way of refunds Amazon will be required to provide.

Several years ago, Apple found itself in a similar situation over precisely the same practice. In 2013 it agreed to settle a class action lawsuit over unauthorized in-app purchases, paying out a total of $100 million.

The settlement required Amazon to compensate parents whose children charged $30 or less, but all the parents didn't actually receive cash. Instead of getting their money back, parents with an iTunes account received $5 in iTunes store credit. Parents who did not have an iTunes account got $5.

Provisions were made to parents whose children ran up more than $30 in charges, but the parents were required to produce documentation of the charges.

When a child uses an app to charge things to Amazon without permission, the liability is Amazon's, not the parents'.That's the conclusion of a U.S. Dis...

Amazon offering its Prime Video as a standalone service in a challenge to Netflix

Prime Video will be priced one dollar less than Netflix's new higher rate

Amazon is rolling out its popular Prime Video as a standalone service, selling it for $8.99 a month. That will soon be one dollar less than Netflix, which is raising its monthly subscription rate to $9.99 next month.

Prime Video has previously been available for free to the millions of consumers who are members of its $99-per-year Prime shopping service, which includes free shipping on many items, free e-book rentals, and other perks.

And speaking of Prime, Amazon says it will offer it on a monthly basis as well, for $10.99. The obvious hope is that for a few dollars more, most consumers will choose to buy the whole package rather than just the video.

Netflix and Amazon have been prime contenders in the video-streaming business for years and lately have been putting their efforts into producing top-flight original dramas, series, and comedies, like Netflix hits "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" and Amazon's "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle."

Both Netflix and Amazon's streaming services are distributed by Amazon's cloud data service, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

None of this is really surprising. As the Wall Street Journal noted in today's editions, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings predicted back in 2012 that Amazon would offer its Prime Video as a standalone service.

Making the Prime shopping service available on a monthly basis also raises the stakes for all online retailers, since consumers who previously couldn't bring themselves to pay $99 to shop online may find it a bit easier to cough up $10.99 for a month or two around the Christmas shopping season.

Amazon is rolling out its popular Prime Video as a standalone service, selling it for $8.99 a month. That will soon be one dollar less than Netflix, which ...

Amazon introduces eighth-generation Kindle, the Oasis

Battery life stretches to months thanks to an included charging cover

Amazon's Kindle is one of those little devices that started a revolution. It made more books accessible to more people than ever but also included quite a bit of collateral damage, to wit, the virtual sacking and burning of the nation's bookstores. 

The hardest thing about revolutions, of course, isn't starting them, it's keeping them going. Amazon has worked hard to keep the Kindle current, tweaking the display, controls, and battery life with each new edition.

The latest edition, the Kindle Oasis, made its debut today and features, among other things, a cover that includes a charger-battery combination that helps extend battery life to months instead of weeks -- assuming you don't read much.

We're told you can also hold the Kindle in one hand. That sounds simple, but those of us who are more or less permanently attached to the previous Kindle, the Voyage, will tell you that it can be hard to hold one-handed without inadvertently hitting page-turn controls located along both sides of the screen.

The Oasis, by contrast, is thicker on one side than the other, creating a sort of natural handle. It works for both right-handed people and southpaws. Just flip it over and the right side becomes the left, and so on.

One thing about the Kindles -- they only do one thing: deliver and display books. You can't call a friend, play a game, or pay your bills. But in their defense, each generation of the Kindle has gotten just a bit slicker than its predecessor and thus displays books very well indeed. 

They've gotten pricier too. The Oasis, when it ships later this month, will set you back $290 while the original Kindle was somewhere around $80. 

One consolation: the Oasis includes a leather cover, which was an option for earlier editions. 

A modest suggestion

For awhile there, it looks like Amazon was more or less giving away the Kindle to help it sell more books, which were once priced beginning at 99 cents. Now the books are more expensive and so are the Kindles, but those who are hopelessly addicted to reading or allergic to streaming videos continue to cling to them.

Oh, about those leather covers: they all come in dark shades, like brown, black, and merlot. Those of us who carry our Kindles around all day are constantly losing them because the dark-colored covers blend into most backgrounds. 

Maybe we could get a canary yellow or flaming red next time? Or a "find my Kindle" app?

--

Shocking disclosure: We order our Kindles and pay full price for them, just like everyone else. No promotional considerations accepted. 

Amazon's Kindle is one of those little devices that started a revolution. It made more books accessible to more people than ever but ...

Amazon expands same-day delivery to 11 markets

That brings the total number of same day delivery markets to 27

Amazon has added 11 more metro areas where members of Prime can get free same day delivery, as long as the order is for more than $35. The same day delivery will be available seven days a week in:

  • Charlotte
  • Cincinnati
  • Fresno
  • Louisville
  • Milwaukee
  • Nashville
  • Raleigh
  • Richmond
  • Sacramento
  • Stockton
  • Tucson

Amazon says it has also added same day delivery areas in parts of Central New Jersey, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and San Diego. According to the online retailer, Prime same day delivery now exists in 27 metro areas in the U.S.

“Prime was developed to make shopping on Amazon fast and convenient, and millions of members have used Prime free same-day delivery to make their lives even easier,” Greg Greeley, Vice President of Prime, said in a statement.

He said the company plans to keep enhancing Amazon's membership service as operational capabilities grow.

Amazon Prime is an annual membership program costing $99 a year. Among its benefits is unlimited free two-day shipping across all categories.

Amazon has added 11 more metro areas where members of Prime can get free same day delivery, as long as the order is for more than $35. The same day deliver...

Update older Kindles or lose Internet connectivity

Amazon says critical software update required by March 22

If you own a kindle purchased before 2013, Amazon says you'll need to install a critical software update before Tuesday, March 22, or lose access to the Internet.

Without Internet access, of course, you would be limited to reading the books and magazines currently on your e-reader – you would not be able to download more. The update is required on devices sold in 2012 or before.

Updating before March 22 is fairly simple. If your Kindle e-reader does not have the latest software version, connect your device to Wi-Fi to receive the software update.

How to update

Once connected to the  Internet:

  1. From the home screen, select Menu and then choose Sync and Check for Items.
  2. Plug the device in and leave it plugged in, connected to the Internet, overnight.

Amazon says the new software will download automatically and self-install. The device may restart multiple times during the process.

If you don't update the software by the deadline, you can still install it – but it will have to be done manually, since you will no longer have Internet access. You will be able to download the software update to a PC, then connect the Kindle via USB port, and transfer it that way.

Once you have successfully installed the update, you'll receive a message on your screen to that effect.

Affected devices

The devices requiring an update are:

  • Kindle 1st Generation (2007)
  • Kindle 2nd Generation (2009)
  • Kindle DX 2nd Generation (2009)
  • Kindle Keyboard 3rd Generation (2010)
  • Kindle 4th Generation (2011)
  • Kindle 5th Generation (2012)
  • Kindle Touch 4th Generation (2011)
  • Kindle Paperwhite 5th Generation (2012)

Still confused? Amazon has step-by-step directions here.

If you own a kindle purchased before 2013, Amazon says you'll need to install a critical software update before Tuesday, March 22, or lose access to the In...

Amazon inks deal to lease 20 aircraft to deliver packages

The move will allow the company more control over its operations and provide faster delivery times

Way back in December of 2013, Amazon unveiled its concept for Amazon Prime Air – a drone delivery service that would be able to deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less. While the service has yet to take off, so to say, Amazon is not sitting back and waiting to take to the skies.

Reuters reports that Amazon has struck a deal to lease 20 Boeing 767 aircraft from Air Transport Services Group Inc (ATSG). With the move, Amazon will be able to take more control over its shipping and business operations while allowing them to deliver packages at an even faster rate. The lease agreement will last anywhere from five to seven years, according to ATSG.

Included in the deal is an option for Amazon to buy up to 19.9% of ATSG’s stock over five years. Word of the deal has moved quickly and investors have begun to respond. ATSG shares jumped 21% in premarket trading on Wednesday. 

Way back in December of 2013, Amazon unveiled its concept for Amazon Prime Air – a drone delivery service that would be able to deliver packages to custome...

Amazon jumps into home shopping TV

Style Code Live will feature products available through Amazon

Amazon.com's foray into video streaming will take another turn tonight when the online giant premiers its first live show. The program is not just entertainment, but is designed to sell product.

Unlike other streaming offerings that are provided on-demand, Style Code Live will stream live weeknights at 9 ET/6PT. It will cover fashion and beauty, featuring interviews with style experts.

It will also show products that viewers can purchase and make it easy to buy them at Amazon.com. Unlike Amazon's other video offerings, Style Code Live will be free to all viewers. You can access it here.

Three hosts

The program will feature three hosts – Lyndsey Rodrigues, Rachel Smith, and Frankie Grande. Rodrigues has hosted shows including MTV’s Total Request Live and has interviewed a range of film and music stars. Smith is a correspondent at ABC News for Good Morning America and Nightline. Grande is a television personality and theatre actor who has appeared on CBS’s Big Brother 16.

Amazon says the show will have interactive features such as live chat, allowing audience members to join the conversation or pose questions. It will also prominently display products available through Amazon.

A “Style Carousel” directly under the Style Code Live player constantly updates to highlight products available on Amazon as they are featured in the show.

Natural evolution

The program is perhaps the natural evolution for a company that is firmly embedded in both the media and retail worlds.

“Our customers love fashion, and have wanted a place to keep up with new trends and get expert tips. We created Style Code Live for them, and we are just getting started with this show,” executive producer Munira Rahemtulla, said in a statement. “The team can't wait for tonight’s premiere.”

Amazon hopes to compete with HSN, QVC, and ShopNBC, three of the major shop at home television networks. According to Racked.com, HSN sold $2.5 billion in merchandise in 2014.

Amazon.com's foray into video streaming will take another turn tonight when the online giant premiers its first live show. The program is not just entertai...

Amazon set to open second bookstore in San Diego

Plans to open more locations across the nation have been speculated on as well

After opening its first bookstore in Seattle this past November, Amazon is staging to open another literary location in San Diego this summer. Original rumors of the store opening started circulating in February when job listings for the store were posted, but it was recently confirmed by an Amazon representative in a report by The San Diego Union- Tribune.

If the Seattle location is any indicator, the new bookstore will be offering an array of best-selling books and electronic equipment; these include Amazon products like Kindles, Fire TVs and tablets, and the Echo. The San Diego Union- Tribune also reports that the new store will have an “upscale” style, one that matches its location at the University Towne Center Mall.

While the induction of these physical bookstores has been slow to start, there has been some speculation that as many as 400 stores may be planned to open across the nation. The quote was provided by General Growth Properties (GGP) after analyzing an earning’s call.

"You’ve got Amazon opening brick-and-mortar bookstores and their goal is to open, as I understand, 300 to 400,” said a GGP executive at the time. However, the company quickly stepped back from this statement, saying that its suggestion was “not intended to represent Amazon’s plans.”

Whatever their eventual plans may be for the chain, Amazon states that it is happy to be moving forward with its second location. “We are excited to be bringing Amazon Books to the University Towne Center Mall in San Diego and we are currently hiring store managers and associates,” said Amazon spokesperson Sarah Gelman. “Stay tuned for additional details down the road.”

After opening its first bookstore in Seattle this past November, Amazon is staging to open another literary location in San Diego this summer. Original rum...

Amazon now has seven of its own clothing brands

Experts say the affordably priced clothing already seems poised for success

Amazon recently launched seven of its own private label clothing brands: Franklin & Freeman, Franklin Tailored, James & Erin, Lark & Ro, North Eleven, Scout + Ro, and Society New York.

Reports note that while there wasn’t much in the way of launch day fanfare, the stylish and affordably priced brands seem poised for success.

Getting in on the fast fashion game by offering relatively inexpensive basics will allow Amazon to take advantage of gaps in its variety from outside vendors, says fashion site WWD.

Affordably priced

The new lines -- which currently account for 1,800 listings on the site -- are as fashionable as they are budget-friendly. Women’s dresses are priced under $100, while men’s suits are listed for under $300.

James & Erin, North Eleven, Society New York, and Lark & Ro focus on women’s apparel, while Franklin & Freeman and Franklin Tailored offer dress shoes and apparel for men. Scout + Ro has the little ones covered.

Lark & Ro, which sells dresses for $66.50, offers a “practical yet polished look” for women on-the-go. Their collection of smart casual looks has everything from classic staples to fun florals. Lark & Ro also claims to source fabrics that will hold up all day, without creasing or wrinkles.

Franklin & Freeman focuses on men’s dress shoes and loafers, the majority of which will only set you back about $65. To go with your new shoes, head over to Franklin Tailored to take care of your suit and tie needs. Ties are priced at around $25 and suits are generally under $250.

Scout + Ro offers clothing for boys and girls aged 4 to 14. The brand describes its kid-friendly clothing as, “confident, comfortable, and ready-for-anything.” Girls and boys tops are going for around $10 to $15 and pants for around $20.

Next steps

While Amazon has not officially confirmed it, reports speculate that the brand is already working to build its private label team. Job openings for head of marketing, senior brand manager, senior sourcing manager, and senior merchandiser for its private fashion label unit are currently open.

“Apparel is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing categories,” notes Ed Yruma, KeyBlanc Capital analyst, whose team believes the low barriers to entry, size, and significant competitive set "make this an attractive category for Amazon." 

He adds, however, that there is more work to be done to scale the site’s foray into the realm of apparel. Yruma believes greater brand cooperation with third-party seller restrictions and an owned-brand approach will be necessary for future growth and success.

Amazon recently launched seven of its own private label clothing brands: Franklin & Freeman, Franklin Tailored, James & Erin, Lark & Ro, North Eleven, Scou...

Amazon offers discount on Prime memberships in honor of Golden Globes award

Consumers need to move fast though -- the deal only lasts through this weekend

The time for holiday shopping is now firmly behind us as we move into the new year, but did you end up getting everything you wanted? Online shopping continued to grow this past year, and online memberships provided huge benefits to consumers who shelled out the money and took advantage of them.

Luckily, Amazon, one of the more popular online retailers, has decided to make signing up for a membership a little more affordable for a short time. For this coming weekend only, the company is discounting the price of its annual membership, Amazon Prime, by roughly 26%.

The discount honors Amazon’s recent Golden Globe award for its original series “Mozart in the Jungle”, according to Business Insider. Consumers looking to take advantage of it will only have to pay $73 for the membership, a nod towards this year’s 73rd annual Golden Globes.

Amazon Prime comes with a number of benefits for the consumer, including free two-day shipping, free same-day delivery on select items, and access to several different features, like Prime Instant Video, Prime Music, and Prime Photos.  

The sale will begin officially on Friday at 9:00 p.m. (PST) and will end on Sunday at 11:59 p.m. (PST). 

The time for holiday shopping is now firmly behind us as we move into the new year, but did you end up getting everything you wanted? Online shopping conti...

Amazon shortens delivery times in more markets

Prime members in Chicago and Orlando now get free same day deliveries

Amazon.com continues to increase the number of markets where it provides same-day delivery.

The online retailer says the Chicago and Orlando metro areas and parts of New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia are the latest places where Prime members can get free same-day delivery

Amazon now provides the service to more than 750 cities and towns across 16 metro areas. Under the system, Prime members can order by noon and receive all same-day orders over $35 before bedtime that very same day, seven days a week.

Amazon has focused intense efforts on speeding delivery to better compete with brick-and-mortal retailers, as well as online competitors.

"We're focused on making Prime better and better,” said Greg Greeley, vice president of Amazon Prime.

What consumers need today

What do consumers order for same day delivery? In addition to fun items like the latest electronics, Amazon says the orders include the Fire TV Stick, Crest 3D White Luxe Strips, and Optimum Nutrition chocolate-flavored protein powder.

Orders vary by locality. In New York, Amazon says it receives rush orders for water filters. In Atlanta, inflatable water toys are popular same-day items. In San Francisco, there are a lot of same-day orders for bicycle locks.

In California, Amazon is expanding the areas where Prime customers can get one-hour deliveries of certain products. Customers in most San Francisco and San Jose neighborhoods such as Potrero Hill, Mountain View, and Cupertino can now use the one-hour service. Customers can enter their zip code in the Prime Now app to see if their neighborhood is eligible or to be notified when the service is available in their area.

Delivery the new battleground

Now that consumers can order just about anything online, the next area of competition is free delivery and the speed at which the merchandise arrives. Among the major retailers offering free shipping on at least some items are TargetApple, and Kohl's. All require a certain order amount to qualify.

Online retailers that use Federal Express may be able to deliver the same day, in some cases, to consumers willing to pay the express charge. Fed Ex says it can get some parcels to your door within hours.

During the 2014 holiday season, free shipping almost became the norm. To make an online sale, a retailer almost had to eat the shipping charges. Many retail analysts think that will be even more prevalent this year.

Amazon.com continues to increase the number of markets where it provides same-day delivery.The online retailer says the Chicago and Orlando metro areas...

Amazon sues review-for-hire writers

Seeks to identify individuals using jobs sites to pitch phony review-writing services

When you are buying something online, there are often plenty of consumer reviews about the product. But can you trust them?

After all, a number of enterprising souls are selling their services to online marketers, offering to write a five-star review for only $5; this means that a glowing review might mean very little.

Amazon.com is going on the attack against this practice. The company has filed a lawsuit in King County, Washington Superior Court against 1,114 individuals currently identified as John Doe. It charges them with breach of contract for violating Amazon's terms of service agreement.

“Honest and unbiased reviews allow customers to shop with confidence at Amazon.com,” the suit says. “Amazon takes the credibility of its customer reviews very seriously.”

Unfair advantage

The suit says a “small minority” of sellers and manufacturers try to gain an unfair advantage by paying people to post positive reviews, regardless of whether they have even seen the product. This practice, says Amazon, undermines trust and tarnishes the company's brand.

Despite attempts to keep reviews on the up-and-up, the company says “an unhealthy ecosystem has developed outside of Amazon to supply reviews in exchange for payment.”

Amazon targeted its defendants by their solicitations on a freelance jobs site called Fiverr. The writers used handles in place of names, but Amazon said it is taking steps to learn their identities.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

In April, Amazon filed suit against websites that allegedly marketed fake reviews to businesses that sold products on Amazon.com. The suit, also filed in Washington state, accused the companies of false advertising, trademark infringement, and violating consumer protection laws.  

When you are buying something online, there are often plenty of consumer reviews about the product. But can you trust them?After all, a number of enter...

Amazon boots Apple TV & Google Chromecast

Says they're not compatible with Amazon Prime

Amazon is showing the door to Apple TV and Google Chromecast, two popular streaming video products that aren't compatible with its Amazon Prime Video service, Bloomberg Business reported.

Besides their supposed incompatability with Prime Video, the devices also compete with Amazon's Fire TV and Fire TV stick.

Amazon said both Apple TV and Google Chromecast will disappear from its site on Oct. 29, and no new listings for either product will be accepted.

"Roku, Xbox, PlayStation, and Fire TV are excellent choices," the company said in a statement.
 
"Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime," Amazon told vendors in an email. "It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion."

Amazon is showing the door to Apple TV and Google Chromecast, two popular streaming video products that aren't compatible with its Amazon Prime Video servi...

Like delivering packages? Amazon has a deal for you

Amazon Flex is an Uber-like package delivery service -- minus those annoying passengers

So maybe you'd like to get paid for driving around, but you can't stand making small talk, which sort of rules out driving for Uber or Lyft. Ah, but now Amazon will pay you to drive around and deliver packages.

The Uber-style package delivery service is called Amazon Flex, and it launched today in Seattle, with plans to roll out shortly in New York, Chicago, and other large cities.

Drivers will be paid $18 to $25 an hour to deliver packages ordered up through Amazon Prime Now, the company's one-hour delivery service. Shifts are two, four, or eight hours.

You'll need the usual -- a car, a smartphone (Android, not iPhone) and a clean criminal record. 

Amazon says drivers can work as much or as little as they like. It's not clear from Amazon's announcement whether the pay is hourly or per piece, a detail you might want to be sure you understand before diving in.

Some former Uber and Lyft drivers have become disenchanted and filed suit, claiming they should actually be classified as employees rather than independent contractors.

To avoid disappointment, freelancers looking for "gigs" need to think of themselves as businesspeople. While it's true that you'll be responsible for gas, car maintenance, insurance, etc., remember that these are deductible business expenses. You may also be able to take a depreciation deduction for your car. Talk to an accountant to work out a strategy.

Incorporating as an LLC is also a good idea. It provides important liability protection and is very inexpensive.

So maybe you'd like to get paid for driving around, but you can't stand making small talk, which sort of rules out driving for Uber or Lyft. Ah, but now Am...

Amazon introduces seven-inch tablet for $49.99

If you buy five, Amazon will throw in an extra at no charge

Amazon.com has been known to try to get a jump on the holiday shopping season. Its July 15 Prime Day promotion is a successful example.

The online retailer is at it again, taking the wraps off a new seven-inch tablet for $49.99. The product is available for pre-order, with shipping beginning on September 30.

To make it even cheaper, Amazon is offering its new Fire tablet in a six-pack; if you buy five of the devices, you get a sixth free, meaning it could replace the fruit cake or fruit-of-the-month club as the ubiquitous holiday gift.

Front and back cameras

The new tablet features a 1024 x 600 seven-inch display with a 1.3 GHz quad-core processor and rear and front cameras. It comes with 8 GB of internal storage and free unlimited cloud storage, as long as it is Amazon content and photos taken with Fire devices. You can add a microSD card for up to 128 GB of additional storage.

It runs Fire OS 5 and provides up to seven hours of battery life.

“Today, we’re taking another step in our mission to deliver premium products at non-premium prices,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com CEO. “The all-new Fire features a quad-core processor, is incredibly durable, and is backed by the Amazon content ecosystem, the new AmazonUnderground, and Amazon customer service with Mayday Screen Sharing.”

Flat sales

The tablet, as a device, appears to be at a crossroads. Apple this month introduced a larger tablet, the iPad Pro – a device aimed at business users. With the $50 Fire, Amazon is banking on entertainment users to drive sales.

These changes come at a time when tablet sales have leveled off. According to Statista, global tablet shipments declined from 48 million in the second quarter of 2014 to 44.7 million in the second quarter of this year.

Technology publication TechCrunch speculates the market has become saturated while consumers find they prefer their recently more sophisticated smartphones over a bulkier tablet.

Amazon is likely banking on the lower price point to lure consumers back to tablets. Since Amazon increasingly positions itself as a content provider, it stands to profit in other ways than strictly the sale of hardware.

The company points out the tablet will give users access to over 38 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, apps, and games, as well as other features like X-Ray, ASAP, and Second Screen.

Amazon.com has been known to try to get a jump on the holiday shopping season. Its July 15 Prime Day promotion is a successful example.The online retai...

Amazon planning a $50 tablet for the holidays, reports say

The big retailer perhaps hopes a lower price will work wonders

Amazon's Fire tablet didn't exactly set the world on fire and some of its other gadgets haven't done so well either. So this time around, instead of relying on tech wizardry the giant retailer is hoping a low price will move the merchandise.

The company is planning to release a $50 tablet with a 6-inch screen in time for this year's holiday shopping season, the Wall Street Journal reports today. That would be half the price of Amazon's current Fire HD and a lot less than the price of comparable products from Apple, Samsung, et al.

The device won't have all the bells and whistles of more expensive tablets and will be intended mostly for such simple tasks as streaming video and, of course, shopping on Amazon. For $50, it's basically disposable, which should make it a good gift for children and others who aren't always too careful with delicate tech toys.

Competing with Apple is an exercise that's fraught with peril, however. Later this week, Apple is expected to release new iPad and iPhone versions, possibly including some lower-priced models that could once again douse Amazon's flames. 

In addition, there are already plenty of low-end tablets selling for around $50, making it difficult for Amazon to find a niche a can dominate, many tech watchers speculate.

Amazon's Fire tablet didn't exactly set the world on fire and some of its other gadgets haven't done so well either. So this time around, instead of relyin...

Amazon records “record sales” on Prime Day

Says sales beat its best Black Friday ever

It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday's Prime Day sales shattered records, exceeding even its best Black Friday ever.

The achievement is a bit more impressive because consumers had to be members of Amazon Prime to take part. While it costs $99 a year to be a Prime member, Amazon allowed anyone to sign up for a 30-day free trial membership and take part in the sale.

Amazon said consumers did in droves, with more new members trying Prime worldwide than any single day in Amazon history. When all was said and done, the company reported members ordered 34.4 million items across Prime-eligible countries, breaking all Black Friday records with 398 items ordered per second.

Beat Black Friday by 18%

“Worldwide order growth increased 266% over the same day last year and 18% more than Black Friday 2014 – all in an event exclusively available to Prime members,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President, Amazon Prime.

July 15 was selected since it was Amazon's anniversary. Greeley said the company went into the promotion expecting it would be a one-off thing. But after getting the attention of rival Walmart and setting sales records, Greeley said Prime Day will likely become an annual event.

Among the milestones set during the promotion, Prime Members ordered tens of thousands of Fire TV Sticks in one hour, making it the fastest-selling deal on an Amazon device ever. Fire tablet sales exceeded sales on Black Friday last year.

The company sold 47,000 television sets in a single day, a 1300% increase over July 15 last year. It sold 51,000 Bose headphones, compared to the 8 it sold the previous Wednesday.

Dissent

In the midst of Amazon's victory lap, there are a few voices of dissent. CBS Moneywatch interviewed a number of consumers who said they were disappointed at what was on sale and the depth of the discounts.

“I was frustrated to see that only a certain amount of users could claim each deal," Doug Messer, a Prime member from Westchester, N.Y., told CBS. "We found a TV we wanted and when we went to claim it, we were added to a waitlist. Not really a deal if only a certain percentage of visitors can take advantage of it."

On Twitter, a consumer named Thomas Nguyen said he tried to buy a selfie stick but was number 293 on the wait list.

“Not sure if this is the low point in my life or not,” he Tweeted.

Walmart, which took up the Amazon challenge by launching price “rollbacks” of its own, has released no sales figures from yesterday. Instead, it is still offering digs at its online rival, proclaiming on its website “No 1-day sales here! Just savings every day.”

It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday...

Amazon vs. Walmart: stakes are bigger than just a day of sales

Retailers may be trying to win consumers over for the long haul

Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the middle of July.

When Amazon announced its Prime Day for July 15, it boasted that its one-day deals for its Prime members would beat those offered on Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.

BestBlackFriday.com, operated by Jones-Dengler Marketing, threw down a challenge of its own, listing some of last year's Black Friday specials and challenging Amazon to beat those prices. After viewing the Prime Day deals at midnight, BestBlackFriday.com's Philip Dengler had to admit, Amazon did what it said it would do.

“To our surprise, they are beating Black Friday 2014 prices on some of the most sought-after items,” Dengler told ComsumerAffairs in an email.

Side-by-side comparison

Dengler and his associates reached that conclusion after doing a side-by-side comparison of last year's Black Friday deals and Amazon's Prime Day prices.

“While Black Friday wins in a few areas, Prime Day is winning where it counts,” Dengler said. “They have the lowest price on the very popular 32" and 40" televisions.”

Dengler said Amazon is also winning on the Kindle Fire 7, Kindle Fire 7 Kids Version, Crucial MX100 Drives, VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch, Bose SoundTrue Headphones On-Ear Style and many other items.

“Judging by the information available to us now, we think Amazon was right in their Prime Day comparison to Black Friday,” Dengler said.

Walmart's response

These prices, of course, are only available to consumers who have paid $99 a year to be Prime members, a point Walmart has made in its none-too-subtle promotion of its own sale. Visitors to Walmart.com are greeted with a bold banner declaring “thousands of new rollbacks, no upfront fees!”

Why would these two retail giants be duking it out in the dead of summer with seemingly little at stake? As we reported yesterday, consumers were sitting on their wallets last month, resulting in disappointing retail sales.

Amazon's motivation probably lies in a desire to boost Prime memberships. Walmart's response may be driven by a determination not to let its rival get out in front on anything. Both are taking the opportunity to try to win over consumers who do most of their shopping online.

Increasing e-service quality

"Increased e-service quality is associated with increased customer satisfaction, which then leads to higher repurchase intentions," said Vikas Mittal, professor of marketing at Rice University. "In other words, increasing e-service quality enhances customer satisfaction and the likelihood of customer repurchase. If Amazon and Wal-Mart want to keep their customers coming back, they must focus on increasing satisfaction via e-service quality."

Mittal and an international team of colleagues have completed a study of what makes up e-service quality. Price is only one part of it.

Their analysis identified four core dimensions of e-service quality: website design, fulfilment, customer service and security/privacy. Together, these four dimensions strongly impact overall e-service quality, the authors conclude. And they should be there 365 days a years – even when the sale prices aren't.

Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the m...

It's on! Walmart responds to Amazon's Prime Day

Retailers clash over who can offer best mid-summer savings

By declaring Wednesday, July 15 “Prime Day,” Amazon.com has unleashed the competitive juices of American capitalism.

Walmart, America's largest retailer, isn't taking the challenge lying down. While Amazon is promising huge one-day savings for members of Amazon Prime, Walmart is having a sale of its own. And in a dig at its online rival, Walmart says you don't have to pay a membership fee to save money.

“We’ve heard some retailers are charging $100 to get access to a sale,” Ferbando Madeira, president and CEO of Walmart, wrote in a blog. “But the idea of asking customers to pay extra in order to save money just doesn’t add up for us.”

Slew of discounts

With the holiday shopping season still months away, Wamart said it will lower the purchase threshold for free shipping and promises to unveil a slew of discounts on Wednesday, when Amazon hopes to reap a bonanza in sales.

Earlier this month Amazon announced Prime Day as a challenge to Black Friday, the official start to the holiday shopping season – a day famous for dramatic mark-downs at retail stores. On Wednesday, new and existing Prime members will have access to a series of Black Friday style bargains, with new deals posted as often as every 10 minutes.

Amazon says Prime Members can shop thousands of Lightning Deals, 7 popular Deals of the Day and receive unlimited fast, free shipping. The promotion may not just be about moving merchandise, but also signing up prime members.

It costs $99 a year to be a Prime member but you get free second-day shipping on purchases and access to video content, as well as the ability to borrow Kindle ebooks at no charge.

Black Friday challenge

As we reported earlier, Amazon's challenge to Black Friday promotions caught the attention of a Black Friday deal site, BestBlackFriday.com. The folks at Jones-Dengler Marketing, which operates the website, responded to Amazon by issuing a challenge of their own.

“Since Amazon is claiming Prime Day will surpass Black Friday in items and prices, we issued them a challenge,” BestBlackFriday.com's Phil Dengler said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “We listed the prices for the most popular items in their sale, and across other retailers, on Black Friday 2014 and dared them to go lower.”

All of this, no doubt, is good for consumers who don't want to wait until the holidays to find good deals. But it goes without saying it's pretty good for Amazon too. Every time a rival challenges Prime Day, it simply calls more attention to Amazon's Christmas-in-July promotion.

By declaring Wednesday, July 15 “Prime Day,” Amazon.com has unleashed the competitive juices of American capitalism. Walmart, America's largest retailer...

Amazon's Echo will turn on your lights, open the garage door and remind you to take out the garbage

No one at home to nag you? Here's the answer

We talk to our computers and other gadgets all the time but, like our significant others, they mostly ignore us. Amazon hopes to change all that with its latest gee-whiz gadget -- the Echo, a slender tube that is somehow reminiscent of the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey," only without corners.

The Echo doesn't appear to do much but Amazon assures us that it's always listening, ready to respond to our slightest wish, as long as that wish is something that can be answered by a weather report, Taylor Swift tune or other digitally-rendered data or activity.

And no, it's not just a knock-off of Apple's Siri. While Siri just rides around in your pocket, the Echo stays home and gets stuff done.  

It's a smart hands-free remote control, in other words. It's been available by invitation-only for the past seven months and Amazon assures us that the initial users have been nothing short of ecstatic, giving it a 4.5 (out of 5) rating.

Alexa-powered

“The customer response to Amazon Echo has been incredibly positive, and we’ve been working hard to build more as quickly as possible,” said Greg Hart , Vice President, Amazon Echo. “We’re excited to get Echo into the hands of even more customers and continue to invent new features and experiences.”

The slender tube-like device uses far-field voice recognition with an array of seven microphones to keep tabs on your every whim. It is also stuffed with dual downward-firing speakers that are said to produce 360-degree omni-directional, room-filling audio. It doesn't mumble under its breath when it talks back to you, in other words.

Echo is powered by Alexa, Amazon's cloud-dwelling repository of data that, unlike people, keeps getting smarter, we're told. At launch, Echo featured hands-free voice control for music (Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn), information from Wikipedia and the web, weather, timers and alarms, news, and shopping/to-do lists.

Does this sound like something you just can't live without? If so, Amazon will ship you one for $179.99 starting July 14.

We talk to our computers and other gadgets all the time but, like our significant others, they mostly ignore us. Amazon hopes to chan...

Amazon will pay some authors by the page instead of by the book

Think about it: this may actually be a good thing for readers

Oh-oh. It just got a little harder for writers to eke out a meager living. First it was the Internet, which made it possible for skinflint publishers to tell which newspaper stories people actually looked at (hint: not many), thus spelling the end of many posh assignments.

Now Amazon wants to start paying some authors based on how many pages of their books consumers actually read. 

Books are, after all, one of the few commodities that are often purchased but seldom consumed. In fact, it's hard to think of anything comparable, unless it's that 2001 Porsche 911 that is slowing sinking through the floor of your 94-year-old neighbor's garage. He always meant to drive it but just never seemed to get around to it. Same type of thing is often true of books.

Back when there were such things as real books, people proudly displayed them on coffee tables and bookshelves, prompting occasional queries along the lines of: "Golly, did you actually read all these here books?"

Now it's more an impulse buy. After all, its hard to impress anyone by showing them the contents of your Kindle. But happily for authors, though sadly for readers, Amazon's one-click shopping makes it easy to buy titles that we never quite get around to reading.

In the case of many self-published books in the Amazon library, we get around to starting them but quickly bail out. Because, let's face it, lots of this stuff is not too good and would never have seen the light of day had Amazon not made it as easy to publish an e-book as to post some dumb comment on Facebook.

They take up space

It's not that Amazon's literary sensibilities are offended by much of the dreck in their library but simply that, being penny pinchers, the Amazonians have discovered through digital skullduggery that many of these self-published books are bought but not read in their entirety. This is bad for business; it annoys consumers and takes up bits and bytes that could be used to store listings for stuff that consumers actually consume, like potato chips or gluten-free bread (which is nearly as hard to digest as some self-published books we could name).    

To tighten things up a bit, Amazon says that effective July 1, the way authors get royalties for self-published books in the Amazon Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited services will change. 

As Amazon put it in a note to authors: “We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read. Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it.”

Free refills, in other words.

Literary tip jar

The by-the-page payout applies only to Amazon's "subscription" services -- those for which customers pay a set monthly fee. Like the tip jar at Starbucks, all the money from these services gets thrown into a virtual pot and at the end of each month, has been divided among authors based on how many of their books were downloaded that month.

Next month, royalty payments will be based on how many pages readers actually flip through. 

While some might say this will be the end of publishing as we know it, others might say it will be a great service to consumers as it will save us all those two-minute blocks of time we previously wasted reading the first few pages of something that should never have been sold in the first place.

Oh-oh. It just got a little harder for writers to eke out a meager living. First it was the Internet, which made it possible for skinflint publishers to te...

Amazon banking on speedier delivery to bolster business

Now offering free 1-day delivery to Prime members in 14 metros

Amazon.com built its business selling all kinds of things online, making it one of the nation's largest retailers. To win even more business, it's trying to get those purchases to consumers faster – for a price.

When ordering from Amazon, standard delivery is 3 to 5 business days. If you select that option, chances are you won't see you purchase any sooner than that.

In 2005 Amazon launched Amazon Prime. For an annual fee of less than $100 members received free 2-day shipping on all orders. To get their money's worth consumers often felt the need to order lots of stuff, so it worked out.

Amazon has since added other benefits to Prime, including access to streaming video content, added in 2011. But pretty soon, 2-day delivery didn't seem all that fast, so Amazon has consistently focused more attention on ways to get items to consumers even faster.

Same day delivery

Because it has massive distribution centers scattered around the country Amazon is able to offer same-day delivery in several cities, for an extra shipping fee of $5.99.

Amazon has just announced it is extending that service to Prime members in certain cities without the extra shipping charge. They will be able to get some items delivered in just one day, included in the $99 annual fee.

There are several strings attached. Not all items will qualify and purchases must total $35 or more to be eligible.

Purchases must also be made before noon to arrive the same day and the delivery must be to one of 14 metro areas.

Selling delivery

It might be said that delivery has, itself, become a commodity in the marketplace. Other competitors like Walmart and eBay are working on their own delivery deals, perhaps prompting Amazon to push the envelope a bit.

In 2013 Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced plans to use drone aircraft to make deliveries – a plan that still must navigate some challenging regulatory turbulence from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can begin to be implemented.

Last week Amazon disclosed its Prime Now service will provide 1-hour delivery service from other local stores, along with many Amazon items, to members in select Manhattan neighborhoods.

“Our Prime Now hub in Manhattan is home to tens of thousands of products that are being delivered to customers in an hour or less. Now, we are expanding the service to include delivery from local stores,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. “So whether you’re ordering diapers and a big-screen television from Amazon, fresh produce from D’Agostino, a chef-made prepared meal from Gourmet Garage or cupcakes from Billy’s Bakery, we will get all of the items right to your door in lightning-fast speeds as well.”

Amazon says that service and will eventually spread to include other Manhattan neighborhoods and other major U.S. cities.

Amazon.com built its business selling all kinds of things online, making it one of the nation's largest retailers. To win even more business, it's trying t...

Skepticism surrounds Jet.com, a challenger to Amazon Prime

The new shopping site promises the lowest prices ever but does its value proposition make sense?

A company called Jet.com has been promoting itself as the beginning of the end for Amazon Prime, promising to provide much lower prices to its customers and driving Amazon into the history books.

Although it hasn't launched yet, Jet.com has been raising money at a healthy clip, with about $220 million invested so far. The company's valuation is estimated at about $600 million, which isn't bad for a retailer that has yet to sell a single pair of shoes or box of tissues.

Why are investors so bullish on this upstart?

It's mostly because of its founder and CEO, Marc Lore, lionized on Wall Street as one of the gods of e-commerce. He's known mostly for starting Diapers.com, a successful site that was eventually sold to none other than Amazon, the company Lore now promises to decimate.

And this will happen how, exactly?

Half price!

As Lore tells it, Jet.com will sell memberships for $50 a year, roughly half the $99 cost of Amazon Prime. In exchange, consumers will be guaranteed the absolute lowest prices, along with free shipping for orders over $35.

There are some potential problems with this. For starters, Amazon Prime offers free shipping on nearly everything with no minimum. And, Amazon currently sells literally hundreds of millions of products. Jet.com promises it will have 10 million by the time it launches later this spring.

Then there are all the things that are included free in Prime -- music, streaming video and books to mention a few. 

In business school, budding entrepreneurs learn about something called the "value proposition" -- basically a fancy term that defines what consumers think they're getting for shelling out their money.

In the crudest possible terms, Lore thinks consumers will rush to spend half as much for a Jet.com membership as for a Prime subscription, in exchange for getting access to a fraction of the inventory with no movies, books or tunes thrown in and free shipping only on bigger orders.

Sound good to you?

If so, get that $50 ready to hand over. If not, it might be wise to hold onto the cash for awhile and see what early adopters have to say about it.

    

A company called Jet.com has been promoting itself as the beginning of the end for Amazon Prime, promising to provide much lower prices to its customers an...

Amazon enters the Home Services market

Hopes to do for the service economy what it already did for retail

This week, Amazon launched a new product aiming to let people buy and sell home services through the company, the way they already can buy physical retail products — expectant parents could always order a crib on Amazon, but now you can also hire someone to put that crib together for you (at least in certain select markets).

Amazon Home Services is, according to Amazon's press release, “a new marketplace for on-demand professional services [from] handpicked pros offering upfront pricing on pre-packaged services.” In other words, Amazon's version of start-ups like TaskRabbit (which is integrating, rather than competing, with Amazon Home Services): Amazon itself isn't providing any services, but listing (and vetting) independent contractors for customers to find.

The company also promises a money-back “Happiness Guarantee” to ensure customers are satisfied with their service purchases.

Thus far, Home Services is only available in select (and for the most part densely populated) urban areas, which currently include Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and of course Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered. Those four cities are currently the only ones offering a “HIGH” level of Home Services coverage, according to Amazon's own map.

But “medium” to “light” coverage is available in over a dozen other cities across the country and, as Amazon's marketing language says, “More locations and service pros are being added to Amazon Home Services every day.”

Reviews are mixed

Reactions thus far have been mixed. Megan Geuss at Ars Technicatried hiring a contractor through Home Services, but it didn't work out:

The cheapest service I could find in my area was getting windshield wipers replaced ($15 if you provide your own wiper blades). I selected that service, hoping that a team of underemployed teens/drones would descend on my vehicle within the hour. I was disappointed to learn that, despite the "Home Services" moniker, I could only get the service if I took my car in to a nearby shop—even then, I couldn't get an appointment until Wednesday. Sorry, but I can replace my own wiper blades, after all.

Other “home” services also turned out to be “in-store” services, including various forms of virus or spyware removal that required customers take their infected devices to a service center.

In my neck of the woods (a part of Virginia technically considered an outermost suburb of Washington D.C.), Amazon only offers a short and oddly inconsistent list of offered services. Under the category “General Repair and Odd Jobs,” for example, there was nobody near my zip code I could hire for “furniture assembly,” although there were offerings for “hutch assembly” ($139), “bookcase” or “bar stool assembly” ($100 each), $150 for “dining set” or “buffet or sideboard assembly” – but nobody who'd assemble a “kitchen island or cart.”

Amazon says that Home Services is “an invite-only marketplace for professional service providers,” who in turn are “handpicked.” That said, the Home Services page also includes a link for service providers to click if they'd like to get an invitation (though Amazon told The Verge that it only accepts 3 out of every 100 professionals in an area).

The gig economy

While most attention to the Home Services rollout focused on the customers' perspective, others wondered what effect this would have on the service providers. Alison Griswold writing for Slate said that Home Services “could take Uber's iffy labor model to a whole new level,” by increasing the number and types of services performed by “independent contractors” rather than “employees” who (at least in theory) have better benefits and job security than pay-by-the-gig independent contractors.

On the other hand, David Lumb at Fast Company proclaimed that Home Services could be “great for gig economy workers,” in part because it will allow them to set their own locally competitive prices. At the same time, Lumb reminded readers of previous Amazon ventures, such as its Fire smartphone and now-defunct subscription diaper service – which launched to much hoopla yet failed to live up to the hype.

And Ars Technica pointed out another potential problem with Home Services: its pricing model. Amazon plans to make money off of Home Services by taking a cut of each contractor's fee – anywhere from 10 to 20 percent, depending on the type of service.

That's likely to work well for one-time hires, but what about recurring services? As Megan Guess said: “Once you find a babysitter or drum teacher you like on Amazon Home Services, there's less of a drive to keep paying through Amazon if the company is taking a cut. If you really love your drum teacher, you'll pay her under the table and let her keep the extra 10 percent.”

This week, Amazon launched a new product aiming to let people buy and sell home services through the company, the way they already can buy physical retail ...

Amazon diaper falls down, goes boom

The "Elements" line of diapers is being disposed of, at least for now

It was with great fanfare that Amazon began selling its own brand of diapers last month. But now the Elements line of diapers is being disposed of as unceremoniously as, well, a used diaper.

"Based on early customer feedback, we are making some design improvements to the diaper. In the meantime, Amazon Elements Soft & Cozy Diapers are no longer available, and we've stopped your subscription," Amazon said in an email to customers who'd signed up for regular diaper shipments, Gigaom reported.

Consumers weren't exactly singing the praises of the new diapers. Some reviews on Amazon's own site panned them for being saggy.

To get the diapers, parents had to be members of Amazon's Prime program, the $99-per-year membership that includes free videos, free two-day shipping and other perks.

As part of its pitch for the diapers, Amazon had said they and other Elements products would be more "transparent" -- meaning that the packaging would include information about the used in making the products, as well as where they're made. Diaper brands in the past have been hit by accusations that their products gave babies rashes and other maladies.  

“Our obsession with customers and drive to continuously innovate on their behalf has led us to create Amazon Elements. The two things customers told us they want are premium products that meet their high standards, and access to information so they can make informed decisions, Amazon Elements offers both,” said Sunny JainAmazon.com Consumables Vice President.

It was with great fanfare that Amazon began selling its own brand of diapers last month. But now the Elements line of diapers is being disposed of as uncer...

Amazon will let buyers haggle with select sellers

Company introduces new Make an Offer option for sellers

Amazon's newest feature – no, make that Amazon's newest experience, because that's the terminology Amazon's “Media Room” uses in its PR marketing writing – will apparently introduce the possibility of haggling into Amazon's online marketplace:

Amazon.com today [on Dec. 9] announced the ‘Make an Offer’ experience that allows customers to negotiate even lower prices on thousands of items. Expanding on Amazon’s traditional fixed price model, the new pricing feature allows customers to offer to buy items at even lower prices. … more than 150,000 items from sellers on Amazon are enabled with the ‘Make an Offer’ experience across Sports and Entertainment Collectibles, Collectible Coins and Fine Art. …

If done right, this could indeed prove useful for those wishing to sell or buy antique, collectible or secondhand items on Amazon. Whether you call it a “feature” or “experience” – the press release uses both – Amazon says it will work this way:

Sellers enable the ‘Make an Offer’ feature for items to show customers they are willing to negotiate for a lower price than the price listed. When selecting ‘Make an Offer’ on an item’s product detail page, a customer can enter and submit a new price of their choosing. The seller will receive the customer’s lower price offer through email, at which point the seller can accept, reject or counter the offer. The seller and customer can continue to negotiate through email until the negotiation is complete. When a seller accepts a customer’s offer, the customer is notified and can place the item into their shopping cart at the agreed upon [sic] new price for checkout and purchase.

However, Amazon's example seems to assume only one potential buyer at a time would make an offer on a given item. It doesn't say whether sellers will be able to see offers from more than one buyer at a time, though it does specify that items will not be sold in an open-auction format.

It also says that sellers have up to three days to respond to a buyer's offer, which when added to shipping time means that, however successful the make an offer feature proves in the future, it might have arrived on the scene just a little bit too late for buying this year's Hanukkah and Christmas gifts.

Amazon's newest feature – no, make that Amazon's newest experience, because that's the terminology Amazon's “Media Room” uses in its PR marketing writing –...

Fear & loathing in Babyland: Amazon creates its own diaper brand

Suppliers have long feared Amazon would eventually elbow them aside

Everyone knows that book publishers tremble everytime someone mentions Amazon. But what isn't quite as apparent is that manufacturers of everything from baby wipes to yogurt has the same fear -- namely, that Amazon will someday introduce its own branded merchandise, shoving their brands aside.

For the makers of diapers and baby wipes, someday is now. Amazon has announced Amazon Elements -- a new line of diapers and baby wipes that will be available only to customers who belong to the Amazon Prime program. 

Amazon's pack of 40 diapers will sell for $7.99 -- 19 cents a diaper compared to national brands like Huggies and Pampers that go for about 24 to 34 cents.

If it's another nail in the coffin for traditional retailers, Elements is also another rung in the Stairway to Heaven that Amazon has been building rung-by-rung the last several years, working towards the day when it not only distributes but also produces movies, baby wipes and peanut butter.

More transparent

Besides undercutting major brands, Amazon Elements diapers will be more transparent. No, you won't be able to see through them, thankfully, but the company says it will include information about the materials used in making the products, as well as where they're made. Diaper brands in the past have been hit by accusations that their products gave babies rashes and other maladies.  

“Our obsession with customers and drive to continuously innovate on their behalf has led us to create Amazon Elements. The two things customers told us they want are premium products that meet their high standards, and access to information so they can make informed decisions, Amazon Elements offers both,” said Sunny JainAmazon.com Consumables Vice President. "We’ve leveraged our strengths in technology to bring customers an unprecedented level of information about these products, all with just the click of a button. We’re excited to offer Amazon Prime members added selection, beginning with diapers and baby wipes.”

Note the word "consumables" in Jain's title. In retailing jargon, that means everything from tissues to food -- a product that disappears as you use it. It suggests we'll soon see Amazon facial tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, blueberry jam and dark roast coffee.

It is, of course, only logical for Amazon to do what other successful retailers have done. Costco, Trader Joe's and all the major supermarket chains all sell their own branded products. By contracting directly with a manufacturer, they reduce their cost while getting one more item they can slap their logo onto, thus building customer loyalty, assuming the products perform as promised.

Amazon says it already has that base covered. In its Elements announcement, Amazon revealed that it has been test-marketing the products for months and included comments from some early customers, comments like these:

“This is the first diaper I’ve found I would consider switching to. I like how soft they are, the design, the fit and how dry they keep my granddaughter. She usually wakes up at 3 a.m. wanting to be changed but she slept through the night with these diapers. No leaks on her bedding or pajamas and her skin felt dry when we removed the diaper.” – Denise S., grandmother of one

“I really like these diapers and will switch immediately once you start selling them. I love the design, they fit well and the diapers held up overnight (12 – 14 hours) with no leaks. We’ve got a very active son and these work well for him; they are very sturdy.” – Kathryn G., mother of one

Anyway you look at it, it's a bad day at Baby Central. Maybe all those Pampers and Huggies executives will just have to settle for being Uber drivers now. 

Everyone knows that book publishers tremble everytime someone mentions Amazon. But what isn't quite as apparent is that manufacturers of everything from ba...

Look out, Angie! Amazon's getting into home services

Amazon will not just sell you a flat-screen TV; it will have someone come and mount it on your wall

Amazon isn't invading Uber's find-a-ride turf yet but it's big-footing it into another fast-growing niche -- the home handyman field. Not actually doing the work, you understand, just putting homeowners together with jacks of all trades.

This domain has so far been dominated by companies like Angie's List and HomeAdvisor. Yelp, of course, is the go-to review source for such things but doesn't (yet) actually book the job for you.

Amazon, on the other hand, will do anything from air duct cleaning to wireless printer set-up, all as part of a beta program called Amazon Local Services, currently operating in parts of nine states.

So, let's say you want to buy a 60-inch flat-screen TV for the holidays. Amazon will happily sell you the TV and the mounting bracket and send someone out to drill a few holes and fasten it to your wall.

If you're in an area where home services are offered, when you're looking at products that need installation, Amazon will display a button offering to install your TV. Click the button and you get a list of local service providers, along with links to their Yelp reviews.

Amazon says it will check out its handymen, making sure they're licensed, insured and so forth. It will also offer a moneyback guarantee, something that's rare in the handyman field.

Eventually, Amazon reportedly hopes to expand the listings to include such things as fitness coaches and music teachers. Maybe, someday, psychiatrists? 

These are the states and cities where the services is currently being offered, according to its website

California

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Area
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Area
  • San Diego-Carlsbad Area
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Area
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara Area

Florida

  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach Area

Georgia

  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell Area
  • Macon Area

Kansas

  • Wichita Area

Kentucky

  • Lexington-Fayette Area

New York

  • New York City Area

Texas

  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land Area
  • San Antonio-New Braunfels Area

Washington

  • Seattle Area

Wisconsin

  • Green Bay Area
Amazon isn't invading Uber's find-a-ride turf yet but it's big-footing it into another fast-growing niche -- the home handyman field. Not actually doing th...

Amazon, Hachette settle their dispute

"Great win for readers and authors," Kindle proclaims

Amazon and Hachette Book Group have settled their feud over pricing and the imprint's titles will be fully available on Amazon once again. The two have been squabbling since spring and some Hachette titles have been unavailable or have encountered shipping delays.

Amazon had wanted Hachette to price all of its e-books at $9.99 and give it a bigger cut of each sale. Hachette balked and many well-known authors denounced Amazon, claiming its business practices were endangering literature.

The new agreement doesn't set a $9.99 price for every title but gives the publisher incentives to offer lower prices on some books.

Although the dispute received quite a bit of publicity, it was not a flash point for consumers, generating few complaints.

In a joint press release, both companies proclaimed the new agreement as beneficial for all.

Michael Pietsch, Hachette Book Group CEO said, "This is great news for writers. The new agreement will benefit Hachette authors for years to come. It gives Hachette enormous marketing capability with one of our most important bookselling partners.”

Consumers rate Amazon.com

"We are pleased with this new agreement as it includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices, which we believe will be a great win for readers and authors alike," said David Naggar, Vice President, Kindle.

The new ebook terms will take effect early in 2015. Hachette will have responsibility for setting consumer prices of its ebooks, and will also benefit from better terms when it delivers lower prices for readers. Amazon and Hachette will immediately resume normal trading, and Hachette books will be prominently featured in promotions, the companies said.

Amazon and Hachette Book Group have settled their feud over pricing and the imprint's titles will be fully available on Amazon once again. The two have bee...

Literary giants side with Hachette against Amazon

Everyday writers should not suffer as part of contract dispute

It's almost four months now since Amazon customers first noticed that bookseller Amazon and book publisher Hachette Book Group were involved in what Amazon later admitted was a contract dispute, leaving Hachette's authors stuck in the middle as many of their books are not available for sale on the world's largest online bookseller.

In July, Amazon offered to sell e-book Kindle versions of Hachette titles with 100% of the proceeds going to the authors – which sounds generous, except that such a move would seriously hurt Hachettte, leaving it unable to recoup its costs in producing those books, let alone make any profit.

Few authors went along with Amazon's offer.

Today, the New York Times reported the latest chapter in the ongoing saga: “Literary lions unite in protest over Amazon's e-book tactics.” (And most of those lions, including Philip Roth, Stephen King and Ursula LeGuin, aren't even Hachette authors, but they're all very concerned about what they think Amazon is trying to do to the publishing market — and are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for possible monopoly tactics.)

Board members interrogated

The writers are part of a group called Authors United, which on Sept. 19 mailed a letter to 10 Amazon board members. The letter, which is also available online, first dicsusses the various ways Amazon's actions have harmed Hachette authors, and asked each board member (in bold print): “Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?

Authors' United main complaint is not the fact that Amazon is trying to renegotiate contracts with Hachette, but the fact that, while these contract disputes are going on, Amazon is harming many Hachette authors by refusing to sell their books:

Russell Grandinetti of Amazon has stated that the company was "forced to take this step because Hachette refused to come to the table." He has also claimed that "authors are the only leverage we have." As one of the world's largest corporations, Amazon was not "forced" to do anything. …. Amazon chose to involve 2,500 Hachette authors and their books. It could end these sanctions tomorrow while continuing to negotiate. Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids' college educations. We'd like to emphasize that most of us are not Hachette authors, and our concern is founded on principle, rather than self-interest.

The letter also said this:

Amazon has repeatedly tried to dismiss us as "rich" bestselling authors who are advocating higher ebook prices—a false and unfair characterization, as most of us are in fact midlist authors struggling to make a living. And we have not made any statements whatsoever on book pricing. Our point is simple: we believe it is unacceptable for Amazon to impede or block the sale of any books as a negotiating tactic.

Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler. But books are not mere consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to another country. …. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers. This is the process Amazon endangers when it uses its tremendous power to separate authors from their readership.

Moribund dinosaurs

But is it possible that e-publishing through Amazon is simply the wave of the future? Might old-school publishing houses like Hachette be obsolete, now that technology offers so many new publishing options for aspiring writers? Authors United addressed that concern as well:

There has been much talk on the Internet about how traditional publishers like Hachette are "dinosaurs" defending a moribund business model. There have been claims that Amazon is leading the way to a new publishing paradigm, one that pays authors higher royalties, allows anyone to publish, and cuts out the elitist gatekeepers. We agree that Amazon has spurred important innovations in publishing, including a self-publishing model that has given many new writers a voice.

But what these commentators and Amazon itself may not realize is that traditional publishing houses perform a vital role in our society. Publishers provide venture capital for ideas. They advance money to authors, giving them the time and freedom to write their books. This system is especially important for nonfiction writers, who often must travel for research. Thousands of times every year, publishers take a chance on unknown authors and advance them money solely on the basis of an idea. By assuming the risk, publishers expect—and receive—a financial return. What will Amazon replace this process with? How, in the Amazon model, will a young author get funding to pursue a promising idea? 

The New York Times reports that Amazon did not respond to its requests for comment about Authors United.

So far, though, Amazon has taken the position that its stance against Hachette is ultimately for the consumers' benefit: last July, Amazon executive Russ Granadetti gave an exclusive interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said the fight with Hachette was “in the long-term interest of our customers.... This discussion is all about e-book pricing. The terms under which we trade will determine how good the prices are that we can offer consumers.”

It's almost four months now since Amazon customers first noticed that bookseller Amazon and book publisher Hachette Book Group were involved in what Amazon...

Amazon updates the Kindle line-up

Latest model is thinner, faster, etc.

In a world hammered by a constant flow of new gadgets, the challenge sometimes is keeping yesterday's jaw-dropper from turning into today's yawner.

This may be the situation that confronts Amazon's line of Kindle products. No, we're not talking about the Kindle Fire, the Fire Phone or any of those other devices that sound like they are something you'd use around the campfire.

We're talking about the plain old Kindle -- a rather modest, even humdrum product that was sort of revolutionary when it was introduced but that is starting to look a little shopworn now that it is into its seventh generation.

After all, it is competing for attention with watches that act like smartphones and electrocardiogram machines, with cars that are on the verge of driving themselves and with, oh, you know, all that other stuff everybody is always yammering about.

Turns reimagined

Amazon even seems to be getting a little bored with the whole idea. All it can find to say about its new Kindle Voyage is that it the "most advanced e-reader ever,"  which might be what it said about the preceding model. We're told it's faster, slimmer and smarter than its six predecessors.

Smarter how exactly? Well, it has "reimagined page turns," which appears to mean it turns the page when you're ready. You know, like the kid who sits next to the concert pianist and flips the sheet music to the next page. I hope this is true because, as a Kindle addict, I find that one has to keep his fingers nice and warm if he wants to see what's on the next page. This can get annoying on cold days or when reading a particularly steamy passage.

If nothing else, the Voyage is certainly the most expensive Kindle. It goes for $199 -- that's for wi-fi only, not 3g. If you want a power adapter -- and who doesn't? -- that's an extra $14.99. A leather cover? $59.99. A screen protector? $29.99.

In other words, it's $300.

Of course, that's still a lot cheaper than an iPad, which will set you back $499 for the most basic model but will let you watch movies, read spam and waste time on Facebook. Amazon makes a Kindle that will do that too.

The Voyage and its less expensive cousins, however, are sort of stripped down -- no video, no email, no color. Amazon spins this as a virtue, using the tag line "The best devices for reading, period." This is like Southwest Airlines saying its free-for-all seating policy is pro-choice.

However, none of this is meant to disparage the Kindle. Personally, I spend many hours daily on mine, devouring novels, newspapers and weird tracts of all kinds. It's a digital device that helps you escape the digital world, which is pretty awesome when you think about it.

Makes it disappear

Perhaps Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says it a little better: “Our mission with Kindle is to make the device disappear, so you can lose yourself in the author’s world,” as he put it in today's announcement.

“Kindle Voyage is the next big step in this mission," he continued. "With the thinnest design, highest resolution and highest contrast display, reimagined page turns, and all of the features that readers love about Kindle—books in seconds, no eyestrain or glare, readability in bright sunlight, and battery life measured in weeks, not hours—Kindle Voyage is crafted from the ground up for readers.”

Other updated models announced today for delivery after Oct. 21 include the plain vanilla Kindle, described as ideal for beginners. It's $79. That's even a version of the Kindle HD (its iPad-like tablet) designed for kids. It's made for tough handling and includes software aimed at kids. 

In a world hammered by a constant flow of new gadgets, the challenge sometimes is keeping yesterday's jaw-dropper from turning into today's yawner....

Fire sale: Amazon slashes price of Fire Phone to 99 cents

The point-and-buy phone has been, to put it mildly, a dud

This is probably not the day to ask Jeff Bezos how everything is going. It is, after all, the day that Amazon has cut the price of its Fire smartphone to 99 cents from its original price of $199. 

Meanwhile, down the Coast a bit, Apple's latest product release -- the iPhone 6. which is, after all, an awful lot like the iPhone 5 -- is being treated with the adulation, bluster and hype once reserved for space shots and other marvels. 

When Amazon introduced the Fire Phone, it confidently expected to sell between 2 and 3 million phones by the end of this year, analysts said. To put that in perspective, that's about how many iPhones Apple sells each week. Not a really lofty goal, in other words.

Whether it has come close to hitting those numbers isn't known and Amazon's not saying. Which tells you something right there.

Wounded drone

The Fire was supposed to set the world ablaze by making it super easy to order stuff. Just point the phone at a box of cereal, hit the button and -- whoosh -- your order would be placed and a nice fresh box of Cheerios dispatched to your domicile. 

No doubt this sounded great in the marketing meetings but it landed with something of a thud, sort of like a wounded delivery drone making a hard landing.

So will the phone sell at its new 99-cent price? Well, considering that it comes with a year of Amazon Prime, which normally costs up to $99, you could throw the phone away and still come out ahead.

The only fly in that ointment is that so many consumers -- again, no one knows quite how many -- already have Prime, which cuts down the universe of qualified prospects by a rather significant margin.  

At least Amazon was able to get prime advertising space to promote the Fire sale in Bezos' Washington Post this morning. 

This is probably not the day to ask Jeff Bezos how everything is going. It is, after all, the day that Amazon has cut the price of its Fire smartphone to 9...

Amazon stops pre-ordering Disney DVDs; streaming orders still accepted

Do recent Amazon contract disputes stem from an unsustainable business model?

Source: Amazon.com
EDITOR'S NOTE: An Amazon spokesperson wrote to ask we make some “corrections” to this article. Amazon's "corrections" are listed at the end of the article.

--- 

The book publisher Hachette isn't the only media company whose physical offerings cannot be pre-ordered on Amazon.com; as of last week, Walt Disney Home Video can't either. Maybe Amazon is selflessly trying to get lower prices for the benefit of home-media consumers everywhere (as its executives have previously argued) … or, perhaps, Amazon's very survival as a business requires it to get lower wholesale prices from its vendors.

Here's some background: Amazon's feud with the publishers at Hachette has been ongoing for at least three months now. In early May, Amazon started delaying shipments of Hachette titles for no stated reason — a book that Barnes and Noble shipped within 24 hours would take several weeks to arrive if you ordered it on Amazon. But why? Not until May 27 did Amazon admit, in an announcement posted in its Kindle Forum, that it was having a contract dispute with Hachette over what prices to charge for books.

Now it appears Amazon is giving Disney properties the same treatment. HomeMedia Magazine first noticed late last week that the pre-order option for almost every upcoming Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment DVD or Blu-Ray title (such as Captain America: the Winter Soldier and Maleficent) vanished from Amazon.

Amazon customers can still pre-order these movies in streaming video form; they just can't pre-order a DVD, Blu-Ray or any other physical copy of the movie. You can also order or pre-order just about any Disney movie at Walmart.com and plenty of other outlets.  

Hachette job

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), that sounds very similar to an earlier ploy Amazon attempted in its Hachette feud: in mid-July, several weeks after it stopped selling certain Hachette titles, Amazon offered to resume selling Hachette books again — but only in e-book form, and with 100% of the money going to the authors themselves (meaning no money going to Hachette to cover operating costs, let alone potential profits).

So, to recap: Amazon is having contract disputes with various media companies — books from Hachette, movies and videos from Disney. In both instances, Amazon expressed willingness to sell non-physical copies of artistic or literary works – e-copies of books, streaming video access to movies – but is playing hardball where physical media such as paper books or plastic movie discs are concerned. Why?

Nobody other than a few highly placed Amazon executives can say for sure. But here's a possibility: perhaps Amazon is discovering its current business model can't handle physical media.

Big but not very profitable

Consumers rate Amazon.com

Paradoxically, for all Amazon's size it still isn't a particularly profitable company. The excuse so far has been that the company is re-investing any potential profits to further develop the company. In December 2013, for example, an analyst for International Business Times noted that, despite having been in business for almost 20 years, Amazon still isn't making money — yet investors keep pouring theirs into it:

The company barely ekes out a profit, spends a fortune on expansion and free shipping and is famously opaque about its business operations.

Yet, investors continue to pour into the stock, pushing up the company’s share price to $388, a nearly 400 percent rise since the end of the company’s third quarter in September 2008.

At that time, Amazon’s net profit margin was 2.8 percent. By September 2011, that number fell to 0.6 percent. A year later, it was losing $274 million on net sales of $13.8 billion. And in the latest quarter, ended Sept. 30, the massive e-tailer reported a $41 million loss on $17 billion in sales. 

The rest of the analysis went on to explain that essentially, Amazon stockholders were investing in the company's potential future earnings (as opposed to buying a share of whatever money the company is earning right now).

That's not necessarily a bad strategy. Even start-up businesses destined for great success usually operate at a loss at first: if you spend money to start a company, you obviously can't make any profit until after you make back your initial start-up money plus ongoing operating costs.

So, yes, you will operate at a loss for awhile. But how long is that “while” supposed to last, anyway? In Amazon's case, it's already been longer than the time it takes for a typical child to be conceived, born, and raised to full legal adulthood. How long before a reasonable investor should think, “Either I start showing some profit here, or I consider the possibility this wasn't such a good investment after all?” And is it possible that Amazon investors are approaching that point?

A charitable organization?

In September 2013, an econ blogger writing for Slate called Amazon “a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers. The shareholders put up the equity, and instead of owning a claim on a steady stream of fat profits, they get a claim on a mighty engine of consumer surplus. Amazon sells things to people at prices that seem impossible because it actually is impossible to make money that way.”

What's so impossible about Amazon's business model? All that free shipping, for starters. International Business Times pointed out the especial problems caused by the immensely popular Amazon Prime program:

[It] offers customers free two-day shipping for a one-time annual fee of $79 and is another loss leader affecting fourth-quarter estimates. Amazon is characteristically hush-hush about its profits (or lack of them) from this program and won’t even disclose how many customers are signed up for the service.

But the number of Amazon Prime customers is growing.

In business terms, a loss leader is something a company sells at a loss in order to win customers; in this case, Amazon (as of the end of 2013) was willing to lose money shipping items to Prime customers, presumably in the hope that those customers would buy enough additional Amazon items to make up the difference.

Shipping costs

On the other hand: in March 2014, we told you about two then-new lawsuits filed by Amazon Prime members against the company. The lawsuits alleged that, in order to get around its free shipping offer, Amazon charged Prime members higher prices for items, to cover the shipping costs: “[I]f the price of an item is advertised for $10 with $3.99 shipping and the [vendor] wishes to match or top their price, the [vendor] would charge $13.99 or higher.”

In other words, an ordinary non-Prime customer buying that item and nothing else from Amazon would pay a total of $14: $10 for the item and $4 for shipping. But if that customer bought at least $35 worth of items at once, thus qualifying for free shipping, the total cost of the item would only be $10. Yet an Amazon Prime member, who paid a fee for “free” shipping this year, is charged a base price of $13.99 for the item no matter what.

Two months after those lawsuits first made the news, Amazon started its feud with Hachette, which has since expanded to include Disney. And in both cases, Amazon is offering to sell ethereal copies of digital media, but refusing to sell physical copies.

Incidentally, if you're selling e-books or streaming video access, there are no shipping or postage costs involved: your customers use their Internet connections to receive the media they paid for, rather than rely on the post office or FedEx. But paper books and plastic movie discs can't be delivered through the Internet: you have to actually mail those things and pay postage costs, too.

So if, hypothetically, you're a mail-order company who offers free shipping on everything yet can't afford to cover these shipping costs, urging your customers away from physical media in lieu of e-books and streaming videos is a strategy you might want to try. But it's not known whether this explains any of Amazon's motivations surrounding its Hachette and Disney disputes.

---

UPDATE: 8/13 A few hours after this article went live, an Amazon spokesperson wrote us to say “I saw your article 'Amazon Stops Pre-Ordering Disney DVDs; Streaming Orders Still Accepted' on ConsumerAffairs, and wanted to note some corrections that need to be made.” What follows is three quotes from our article, coupled with Amazon's commentary about them.

We wrote:

Here's some background: Amazon's feud with the publishers at Hachette has been ongoing for at least three months now. In early May, Amazon started delaying shipments of Hachette titles for no stated reason — a book that Barnes and Noble shipped within 24 hours would take several weeks to arrive if you ordered it on Amazon. But why? Not until May 27 did Amazon admit, in an announcement posted in its Kindle Forum, that it was having a contract dispute with Hachette over what prices to charge for books.

Amazon's response:

We aren’t delaying shipments. As noted in our May 27 post, we are currently buying less (print) inventory and "safety stock" on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do. Can you update this point?

We wrote:

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), that sounds very similar to an earlier ploy Amazon attempted in its Hachette feud: in mid-July, several weeks after it stopped selling certain Hachette titles

Amazon's response:

This is incorrect—we have never stopped selling any Hachette titles.

We wrote:

Amazon offered to resume selling Hachette books again — but only in e-book form, and with 100% of the money going to the authors themselves (meaning no money going to Hachette to cover operating costs, let alone potential profits).

Amazon's response:

This is incorrect. The offer was as follows, which can also be found here:

• If Hachette agrees, for as long as this dispute lasts, Hachette authors would get 100% of the sales price of every Hachette e-book we sell. Both Amazon and Hachette would forego all revenue and profit from the sale of every e-book until an agreement is reached.

• Amazon would also return to normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats, and for books that haven’t gone on sale yet, reinstate pre-orders.

 

The book publisher Hachette isn't the only media company whose physical offerings cannot be pre-ordered on Amazon.com; as of last week, Walt Disney Home Vi...

Amazon offers to sell e-books for Hachette authors

The catch: all e-book royalties go to aithors, none to Hachette

Book seller Amazon has taken another step in its ongoing contract dispute with publisher Hachette Book Group by offering to sell to sell e-books of Hachette titles and give 100% of the proceeds to the authors, with nothing going to Amazon or Hachette.

Amazon made the offer to certain Hachette authors only a week after an Amazon executive publicly stated that the dispute with Hachette was intended to benefit book-buying customers, by getting lower prices for them.

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal first reported Amazon's e-book offer this week: the Times described it by saying “The confrontation between Amazon and Hachette is growing louder and meaner, as the combatants drop all pretense that this is a reasonable dispute among reasonable people.

David Naggar, Amazon's vice-prsident of Kindle content, e-mailed the offer to a few Hachette authors. The letter, which Gigoam has printed in full, starts out by saying:

“Dear XX,

I wanted to ask your opinion about an idea we’ve had that would take authors out of the middle of the Hachette-Amazon dispute (actually it would be a big windfall for authors) and would motivate both Hachette and Amazon to work faster to resolve the situation.”


The next paragraph is an Amazon-friendly summary of the dispute to date, with Amazon making repeated reasonable offers to Hachette, which stubbornly and unreasonably refuses to play along. The third paragraph assures authors that Amazon sympathizes deeply with them:

We agree that authors are caught in the middle while these negotiations drag on, and we’re particularly sensitive to the effect on debut and midlist authors. But Hachette’s unresponsiveness and unwillingness to talk until we took action put us in this position, and unless Hachette dramatically changes their negotiating tempo, this is going to take a really long time.

After spelling out the details of its e-book sales plan, the letter goes on to say:

We haven’t sent this offer to Hachette yet — we’re sending this to a few authors and agents to get feedback first.

What do you think?  Would this be helpful, especially for midlist and debut authors?

Can we talk on the phone later today or tomorrow once you’ve had a chance to digest?

Thanks and look forward to talking

Hachette, for its part, responded with a public statement saying:

“Amazon has just sent us a brief proposal.  We invite Amazon to withdraw the sanctions they have unilaterally imposed, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the hope of a swift conclusion. We believe that the best outcome for the writers we publish is a contract with Amazon that brings genuine marketing benefits and whose terms allow Hachette to continue to invest in writers, marketing, and innovation.  We look forward to resolving this dispute soon and to the benefit of the writers who have trusted their books to us.”

Not much interest

Yet Amazon clearly has no interest in resolving the dispute “soon;” the company responded to Hachette's statement with a new statement of its own:

We call baloney. Hachette is part of a $10 billion global conglomerate. It wouldn’t be ‘suicide.' They can afford it. What they’re really making clear is that they absolutely want their authors caught in the middle of this negotiation because they believe it increases their leverage. All the while, they are stalling and refusing to negotiate, despite the pain caused to their authors. Our offer is sincere. They should take us up on it.

Amazon's mention of “suicide” was in response to something a Hachette spokeperson said to the New York Times, that giving up all of e-book revenue from Amazon sales “would be a suicidal action” for Hachette.

Book seller Amazon has taken another step in its ongoing contract dispute with publisher Hachette Book Group by offering to sell to sell e-books of Hachett...

Feds allege Amazon has billed parents millions for charges incurred by children

Amazon's in-app system enables children to run up huge bills on their parents' accounts, the FTC charges

It's easy to spend money on Amazon.com, which may be OK if you're an adult and it's your money. But when children run up huge in-app bills on their parents' accounts, that's another story.

First of all, debts incurred by minors aren't collectible and even if they were, Amazon doesn't verify that the person making in-app purchases is, in fact, the account holder, according to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, which says Amazon has billed parents for millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children.

What's an in-app charge? It's a charge for a virtual item -- a "coin," "star" or, perhaps, "acorn" -- that kids buy when playing one of the many games sold ini Amazon's app store for use on the Kindle Fire and other devices. 

Consumers rate Amazon.com

“Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Even Amazon's own employees recognized the serious problem its process created. We are seeking refunds for affected parents and a court order to ensure that Amazon gets parents' consent for in-app purchases."

The FTC earlier sued Apple, alleging similar problems. The agency is seeking full refunds for all affected consumers, disgorgement of Amazon’s ill-gotten gains, and a court order ensuring that in the future Amazon obtains permission before imposing charges for in-app purchases. 

Apple also agreed in 2013 to pay $100 million to settle a class action lawsuit to parents whose children made in-app iTunes purchases. 

Amazon attorney Andrew DeVore said it was "deeply disappointing" that the FTC was proceeding with the action and said the company's actions have been "responsible, customer-focused, and lawful, including prominent notice of in-app purchasing, effective parental controls, real-time notice of every in-app purchase, and world-class customer service."

Consumer groups were quick to jump on Amazon nevertheless. Hudson Kingston, legal director of the Center for Digital Democracy, called Amazon's policies "irresponsible and unfair."

"Today’s FTC action shows that consumers who have been charged for their kids unauthorized in-app purchases should not have to foot the bill. Amazon’s failure to deal fairly with people who purchased its devices and use its apps suggests it places making money as quickly as possible over serving the interests of their consumers," Kingston said. "As Amazon gears up to release a new phone, and expands its impact on the mobile industry and consumers, the FTC’s complaint should serve as a wake-up call for better corporate ethics.”  

'Clearly causing problems'

The complaint alleges that when Amazon introduced in-app charges to the Amazon Appstore in November 2011, there were no password requirements of any kind on in-app charges, including in kids’ games and other apps that appeal to children. According to the complaint, this left parents to foot the bill for charges they didn’t authorize.

According to the complaint, kids’ games often encourage children to acquire virtual items in ways that blur the lines between what costs virtual currency and what costs real money.

In the app “Ice Age Village,” for example, the complaint noted that children can use “coins” and “acorns” to buy items in the game without a real-money charge. However, they can also purchase additional “coins” and “acorns” using real money on a screen that is visually similar to the one that has no real-money charge. The largest quantity purchase available in the app would cost $99.99.

The complaint highlights internal communications among Amazon employees as early as December 2011 that said allowing unlimited in-app charges without any password was “…clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers,” adding that the situation was a “near house on fire.”

In March 2012, according to the complaint, Amazon updated its in-app charge system to require an account owner to enter a password only for individual in-app charges over $20. As the complaint notes, Amazon continued to allow children to make an unlimited number of individual purchases of less than $20 without a parent’s approval.

'House on fire'

An Amazon employee noted at the time of the change that “it’s much easier to get upset about Amazon letting your child purchase a $99 product without any password protection than a $20 product,” according to the complaint. In July 2012, as set forth in the complaint, internal emails again described consumer complaints about in-app charges as a “house on fire” situation.

According to the complaint, thousands of parents complained to Amazon about in-app charges their children incurred without their authorization, amounting to millions of dollars of charges.

For example, one mother noted in the FTC complaint told Amazon that her daughter was able to rack up $358.42 in unauthorized charges, while others complained that even children who could not read were able to “click a lot of buttons at random” and incur several unauthorized charges.

The company’s stated policy is that all in-app charges are final and nonrefundable. According to the complaint, even parents who have sought an exception to that policy have faced a refund process that is unclear and confusing, involving statements that do not explain how to seek refunds for in-app charges or suggest consumers cannot get a refund for these charges.

Rapidly evolving

Amazon's DeVore, however, said that Amazon's procedures already meet the requirements of the consent decree that Apple entered into after it was sued by the FTC.

"In-app purchasing was and remains a new and rapidly evolving segment, and we have consistently improved the customer experience in response to data," he said in a letter to the FTC's Ramirez. "Pursuing litigation against a company whose practices were lawful from the onset and that already meet or exceed the requirements of the Apple consent order makes no sense."

The Direct Marketing Association came to Amazon's defense. 

"The Federal Trade Commission should be encouraging innovation in the growing mobile industry, which benefits consumers and competition.  Instead, the Commission seems focused on using novel legal theories and scarce enforcement resources to go after America's leading tech companies in court," said Rachel Nyswander Thomas, the DMA's vice president for government affairs. "Amazon reportedly has already done the right thing by enhancing its app market and providing consumer refunds, so consumers have nothing to gain and plenty to lose from the Commission's lawsuit.  Nothing will discourage future innovation faster than punishing good deeds."

 

An Amazon "Ice Age" character (Photo credit: Amazon.com) It's easy to spend money on Amazon.com, which may be OK if you're an adult and it's your money...

Amazon speaks out on Hachette feud

Insists the company is acting for the well-being of consumers

The feud between the Hachette Book Group and book megaseller Amazon is in its third month now, but Amazon executives interviewed by the Wall Street Journalthis week insisted that it's all for the benefit of Amazon's book-buying customers, to get lower prices for them.

From an ordinary Amazon shopper's perspective, the issue first became evident sometime in early May: the company ships most new-book orders within 24 hours, yet buyers seeking copies of certain Hachette titles (the company publishes authors including Stephen Colbert and the late J. D. Salinger) were told they'd have to wait anywhere from two to five weeks.

This was only a problem on Amazon; every other online bookseller shipped Hachette titles within a day, same as any other new book.

Contract disputes

When the Hachette delay first made headlines, Amazon initially declined all media requests for comment. Not until May 27, more than two weeks later, did Amazon publicly discuss the issue, by releasing a statement on its Kindle forum admitting that the Hachette delay was due to contract displutes with the company:

“At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms.”

Many critics have accused Amazon of “bullying,” unfairly using its clout to strong-arm a hapless published, possibly even skirting the edges of anti-trust violations. On the other hand, Amazon has pointed out, quite truthfully, that Hachette isn't a small-time indie publisher, but part of a large media conglomerate and a big influential business in its own right.

And yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Amazon executive Russ Grandinetti, the senior vice president in charge of Kindle content, saying that any such damage to Amazon's reputation was worth it, since the company is acting “in the long-term interest of our customers.... This discussion is all about e-book pricing. The terms under which we trade will determine how good the prices are that we can offer consumers.”

The Journal later noted that Amazon currently holds a 40% share of all new book sales in the past year, compared to only 12% five years ago; it definitely qualifies as the single most poweful book retailer today. But an unnamed industry source told the Journal that both Amazon and Hachette have too much at stake to back down:

“Hachette would have come to terms if they felt that what Amazon was seeking was manageable,” said this person. As for Amazon, “If they walk away without a victory of some kind, they'll get punished on Wall Street.”

Meanwhile, any customer who wants to buy a Hachette title can easily visit any other reputable online bookseller and buy one. Amazon is betting that they won't lose any significant number of loyal customers as a result.

The feud between the Hachette Book Group and book megaseller Amazon is in its third month now, but Amazon executives interviewed by the Wall Street Journal...

Amazon introduces the Fire -- its first smartphone

Want to buy something? Just point and click

With news coverage befitting a space launch in the 1970s, Amazon today launched its first smartphone, dubbed the Fire. It features a 4.7-inch screen, a 13-megapixel camera and unlimited photo storage in the cloud.

And yes, as rumored, it produces 3D images that are sort of like holograms.

But in some very important ways, the Fire is less like a phone and more like the bar code wand the cashier at Best Buy points at the goodies you plop down at check-out time.

Firefly

At the launch event in Seattle, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the Fire can recognize more than 100 million items -- everything from books and DVDs to the title of a song you're listening to.

“Fire Phone puts everything you love about Amazon in the palm of your hand — instant access to Amazon’s vast content ecosystem and exclusive features like the Mayday button, ASAP, Second Screen, X-Ray, free unlimited photo storage, and more,” said Bezos. “The Firefly button lets you identify printed web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, artwork, and over 100 million items, including songs, movies, TV shows, and products — and take action in seconds.

Needless to say, it takes just a quick press of a virtual button to order or find out more information about whatever it is you've just identified. Amazon calls this feature "Firefly" and obviously is hoping it directs even more e-commerce its way.

Want to restock your larder? Just roam around the kitchen and point at the items you want to replenish. Firefly does the rest. 

Still digesting

Wall Street analysts are still digesting this feature, which comes as something of a bolt from the blue. Like the Kindle, it turns a communications device into a self-contained personal shopper that buys from only one source -- Amazon.

Of course, you can also use the phone to stream movies and TV shows, listen to music, read books or access just about anything else from Amazon Prime and other online libraries. Amazon Prime charges $99 yearly and includes free two-day shipping as well as access to a growing library of video, music and e-books.

But not only with Fire help you gorge on the virtual and physical products that catch your eye, it will also help you keep track of your caloric intake.

Bezos said you can simply use Firefly to point at food and get its nutritional specifications. 

Ships July 25 ... maybe

Fire ships on July 25 and is available exclusively on AT&T. Starting today, customers can pre-order Fire at www.amazon.com/Fire-Phonewww.att.com and in AT&T retail locations nationwide. Fire with 32GB is available for $199 with a two-year contract or with 64GB for$299 with a two-year contract.

The Fire may turn out to be a big seller but contrary to the publicists' boasts that the device is available for orders today, we didn't find that to be the case.

The pre-order page on the Amazon site was not working when we tried it repeatedly. And AT&T was fairly clueless when we tried to add a Fire to our AT&T family plan.

With news coverage befitting a space launch in the 1970s, Amazon today launched its first smartphone, dubbed the Fire Phone. It features a 4.7-inch screen,...

AT&T gets exclusive on Amazon's new smartphone, reports say

The new phone is rumored to have a 3-D capability

There's a lot of buzz developing around tomorrow's release of Amazon's first-ever smartphone, including reports that AT&T will be the exclusive carrier for the new phone.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that AT&T will have a lock on the phone, at least initially. It is already the carrier that providers wireless service to Kindle tablets and e-readers.

The phone -- rumored to be called the Kindle Phone -- will be unveiled tomorrow (Wednesday) in Seattle but it has already been displayed to developers around the country, leading to early reports about what may turn out to be its most distinguishing feature -- a three-dimensional display that works without special glasses.

The Journal says the phone uses retina-tracking technology in four front-facing cameras that makes some images appear to be 3-D, sort of like a hologram.

The link-up could help AT&T pick up new subscribers, possibly giving it a boost at a time when major carriers are locked in a battle to steal customers from each other, having signed up just about everyone who's old enough to use a smartphone.

The Amazon phone faces a tough marketing challenge. Apple and Samsung are well-entrenched with more than 60% of the market. But analysts note that even if Amazon's phone doesn't set the world on fire, it will give Amazon a direct line to its customers.  

Amazon obviously hopes the device ties it even more tightly to its customer base by providing a home screen that displays whatever Amazon in its wisdom thinks each customer is likely to be looking for at any given moment -- anything from toothpaste to music to streaming video.

“Imagine a home screen of all Amazon apps -- that’s kind of what they are looking for,” said Carl Howe, an analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group, Bloomberg News reported.

Photo via YouTubeThere's a lot of buzz developing around tomorrow's release of Amazon's first-ever smartphone, including reports that AT&T will be ...

Amazon next up to launch streaming music service

Reports say it will be included as part of Amazon Prime

You would think that scientists had just discovered a way to stream music over the Internet. After ignoring it for years, the giants of the online world are falling over each other to launch their version of Pandora, which by most reckonings is the oldest legitimate (meaning, legal) music streamer.

Spotify came along a few years later and offered a more customizable experience than Pandora, which remains by far the largest. 

In recent weeks, Apple has bought Dr. Dre's Beats, which not long before had bought MOG, and Google is said to be in talks to buy Songza, which we're told programs music to suit your mood, time of day and what you happen to be doing -- or, at least what you say you're doing.

Now, reports say Amazon will follow suit, launching a streaming music service for its Amazon Prime members tomorrow.

Prime, which costs $99 a year, already offers a streaming video service, free two-day shipping on many items, a Kindle lending library and probably some other things everyone's forgotten about. Most of the competing music services cost about $10 a month.

Amazon already has a pretty good cloud player that will strum the music you buy from Amazon and songs you've uploaded from CDs. Its streaming service will be somewhat truncated, with a somewhat smaller library than Spotify, according to a report in the New York Post

Sony and Warner Music are already on board, the Post said, while Universal Music hasn't yet inked a deal.

Amazon is set to launch its own streaming music offering Thursday, according to sources.Chasing Apple’s recent $3 billion deal to acquire Beats Mus...

Is Amazon introducing hologram phones later this month?

Upcoming smartphone sounds amazing — if it isn't vaporware

Anytime you hear a computer-product company promise to release some dazzlingly innovative new whatever onto the market, you must be careful not to get too excited in case it turns out to be just another piece of vaporware — a promised and much-hyped hardware or software release that either fails to live up to the hype, or is never released at all.

At any rate, Amazon has (or maybe has) something new in its development pipeline: a hologram smartphone that will supposedly make images appear in 3-d without your having to wear special glasses.

For example: over in the UK, The Register reported the news with the breathless headline “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi! HOLOGAPHIC 3-D PHONE hints in Amazon vid.”

Despite the Princess Leia reference, there's no indication that Amazon is promising a device similar to the [science-fictional] one made famous in Star Wars: press a button (or swipe a touchscreen) and anyone in the room with you can see what appears to be a tiny person, moving around on your tabletop.

But Amazon did release a 50-second video on YouTube, showing various attractive, intelligent-looking people gazing down at an unidentified offscreen something and exclaiming over how wonderful, real-life, amazing, intuitive and similar adjectives that unidentified something is.

Story continues below video

The actors' body language suggests this amazingness has something to do with perspective: one woman, while looking down at the mystery device, kept moving her head and torso from side to side, as though looking at the device from different angles (all of which she found equally impressive).

The video is titled “Find out what these Amazon customers are talking about,” and ends with the promise that whatever they're discussing will be revealed on June 18.

The 3-d phone guesses presumably stem not only from the actors' behavior in the video, but due to an early-May report, originally in the Wall Street Journal, saying Amazon was developing “retina-tracking technology” which, from a viewers' perspective, would make it appear as though images were hovering above a smartphone screen.

Anytime you hear a computer-product company promise to release some dazzlingly innovative new whatever onto the market, you must be careful...

Amazon admits contract disputes are behind its battle with Hachette

Advises customers to look elsewhere for certain books

The latest development in the Amazon vs. Hachette Book Group saga has Amazon openly admitting that contract disputes are behind the recent inability of customers to buy certain Hachette-published titles on Amazon.com. As Amazon announced on its Kindle forum May 27:

“At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms.”

The Amazon v. Hachette battle started slowly. Earlier this month, we first reported that Amazon was delaying shipments of certain Hachette titles: a book that would normally ship within a day or two of the order being placed instead had shipping dates listed several weeks in the future.

The New York Times had first noticed this Hachette-specific shipping delay on May 8, when it reported:

A Hachette spokeswoman said on Thursday that the publisher was striving to keep Amazon supplied but that the Internet giant was delaying shipments “for reasons of their own.” Hachette is one of the largest New York houses, publishing under the Little, Brown and Grand Central imprints, among many others.

The affected books are a mixture of new and old. A just-published memoir, “Everybody’s Got Something,” by the “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, is taking as long as three weeks to ship, customers were told. So is Stephen Colbert’s “America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t.” …. Generally, most popular books are available from Amazon within two days. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

No comment

One particular bit of that quote, where Amazon “declined to comment,” was repeated in pretty much every succeeding media story about the officially mysterious dispute between the bookseller and book publisher. Just this week, for example, on May 26, the Associated Press reported “Amazon escalates standoff with publisher Hachette Book Group,” summarizing the previous two weeks' events before providing the latest official responses from the two parties involved:

"We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company," Hachette said in a statement Friday issued through spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell. Later Friday, Hachette released a more strongly worded statement, saying it was "sparing no effort and exploring all options."

Amazon declined to comment.

Two days earlier, a reporter for Bloomberg news put out a quick update story that “Hachette apologizes to authors caught in Amazon dispute,” and gave readers a quick summary of the situation:

Disagreements between Seattle-based Amazon and publishers have centered on digital-book prices and a reluctance by some houses to replace physical copies of older books with online versions.

Megan Fitzpatrick, a Hachette spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to voice-mail and e-mail messages left after business hours. Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment.

So after several weeks of Amazon declining to comment, its May 27 comment in the Kindle forum was newsworthy indeed.

A cynic might suggest Amazon chose to break its comment-silence because public opinion seemed to be against it in this dispute; typical headlines included “Amazon has gone too far/ the e-book monopolist, having strong-armed Hachette, may finally get its day in court” (Fortune/CNN), and “In the standoff between Amazon and Hachette, the customer comes last” (ditto).

Vintage Bezos

On the other hand, Time's business opinion page wrote “Amazon's war on Hachette is vintage Jeff Bezos — controlling, ruthless, vicious … and probably good for consumers.”

How's that? 'The battle boils down to this: What is the optimal price for e-books? If it’s too high, fewer will be sold. Too low, profit margins will narrow even further. Bezos, head of the world’s biggest book retailer, thinks he has a better view than book publishers of what e-books should cost. He’s probably right.”

But the anonymous headline-writer at the link-aggregation blog Fark.com took a less optimistic view of the situation, linking to Slate's coverage of the story with the sardonic headline: “Amazon encourages readers of Hachette books to purchase them from one of their competitors. The online retail giant then added, 'Good luck finding one. Mwahahahahahahahahahahahaha (inhale) hahahahahahahahahahaha'”

But on the other other hand (the possibilities here represented by a being with far more hands than your typical human gets), one of the first commenters in that Fark discussion thread pointed out that Hachette is not exactly a poor innocent little put-upon bookseller either: in early 2013, Hachette was one of five publishers to agree to a settlement in a federal lawsuit that eventually found Apple and those five publishers guilty of price-fixing e-books.

So the Amazon v. Hachette battle isn't David and Goliath so much as Goliath and Goliath, and which giant you root for probably depends on which side you find more sympathetic.

But in the meanwhile, if you're an Amazon customer hoping to buy certain books published by Hachette, Amazon advises you to look elsewhere if you want to buy them online: “If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.”

The latest development in the Amazon vs. Hachette Book Group saga has Amazon openly admitting that contract disputes are behind the recent inability of cus...

Amazon stops selling Hachette book titles

Is this in retaliation for Hachette publishing an unflattering account of the company?

What does Amazon.com have against the Hachette Book Group? Nobody outside of Amazon's inner circle knows for sure (more on that later), but as The New York Times reported on Friday, the Internet retail giant has decided to escalate matters.

Two weeks ago we told you that Amazon, alone among online booksellers, was delaying its shipments of Hachette books — which includes such authors as Stephen Colbert, J. D. Salinger, and the latest novel by superstar author J. K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame). Now it appears Amazon has stopped selling Hachette books altogether. Though the company has not said why, it's possible that maybe Amazon is upset with Hachette for publishing an unflattering account of the company. As The Times said:

The retailer began refusing orders late Thursday [May 22] 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.

The confrontation with Hachette has turned into the biggest display of Amazon’s dominance since it briefly stripped another publisher, Macmillan, of its “buy” buttons in 2010 …. Amazon has millions of members in its Prime club, who get fast shipping. This, as Internet wits quickly called it, was the “UnPrime” approach.

Amazon is reportedly using the same tactics in Germany, squeezing the publisher Bonnier by delaying shipment of its books.

Given that remark about “Prime” and “un-Prime” shipping, it's worth recalling that, as of March, there are at least two lawsuits against Amazon, alleging that the company actually charges Prime members for “free” shipping by raising the base price of items Prime members buy: an ordinary customer might see a certain item listed for $10 plus $4 shipping, with the shipping cost waived if the total purchase exceeds $35, whereas a Prime member with “free” shipping sees the same item offered for $14.

But it looks like Prime and non-Prime Amazon shoppers at least get the same low low price for certain Hachette books: zero dollars, because the books aren't being sold at all.

What does Amazon.com have against the Hachette Book Group? Nobody outside of Amazon's inner circle knows for sure (more on that later), but as The New York...

Hachette says Amazon is delaying its book shipments

Other sites ship Hachette books within 24 hours; Amazon waits up to several weeks. Why?

If you're visiting online booksellers, hoping to buy something by J.D. Salinger, Stephen Colbert or other authors published under the Hachette Book Group, be warned: though most online retailers will ship your book right away, or at most within a day or two, Amazon.com might delay shipping anywhere from two to five weeks.

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Why? Hachette says this is a negotiating tactic on Amazon's part, whereas Amazon says – nothing, actually, since the company has declined media requests for comment.

The New York Times first reported the matter last Friday, noting that while most popular titles listed on Amazon are available within two days, a curiously large percentage of Hachette books have listed shipping times of two to three weeks.

Though Amazon was unwilling to speak to the Times, Hachette spokesperson Sophie Cottrell did:

“We have been asked legitimate questions about why many of our books are at present marked out of stock with relatively long estimated shipping times on the Amazon website, in contrast to immediate availability on other websites and in stores,” said Sophie Cottrell, a Hachette spokeswoman. “We are satisfying all Amazon’s orders promptly.”

But, she added, “Amazon is holding minimal stock” and restocking some of Hachette’s books “slowly, causing ‘available 2-4 weeks’ messages.”

Whatever the reason for the Hachette Books shipping delay, it's limited to Amazon; many of the same titles whose Amazon shipping dates are listed several weeks in the future will ship within 24 hours from Barnes and Noble.

If you're visiting online booksellers, hoping to buy something by J.D. Salinger, Stephen Colbert or other authors published under the Hachette Book Group, ...

Amazon's "Prime Pantry" delivers groceries, household goods

Get up to 45 pounds of stuff for a flat $5.99 delivery charge

The day wouldn't be complete without Amazon expanding into some new market segment. Today it's home delivery of groceries.

Amazon is announcing something called Prime Pantry, which will let Amazon Prime customers order as many groceries and household items as can be stuffed into a 45-pound box. Unlike other Prime services, there will be a delivery charge -- a flat $5.99, regardless of how full the box is.

How do you know when the box is full? A little icon shows you how full your box is as you add items. 

But, you say, you can already order all kinds of grocery and household items from Amazon. Yes, you can, and many of them qualify for free two-day shipping for Prime members.

But many other items aren't currently offered under Prime -- like soda, bottled water or canned foods, simply because they're too heavy to ship for nothing.

It's not quite clear whether Amazon has added a raft of new products or if it is simply offering a more economical way to ship bulkier items. But unless you're heavily into body-building, there's nothing wrong with letting someone else lug cartons of soft drinks, bottled water and laundry detergent from the curb to your front door.  

On the negative side, we tried to put together a test order but the selection was so limited that we couldn't find 45 pounds worth of anything we wanted. In the sorely lacking department: iced tea in big bottles, coffee beans that aren't Starbucks, big bottles of decent olive oil, snack bars from somebody other than Kashi and so on.

Maybe the selection will improve with time but for now it's very white bread, so to speak.   

The day wouldn't be complete without Amazon expanding into some new market segment. Today it's home delivery of groceries.Amazon is announcing something ...

Amazon smartphone in the works, reports say

E-readers, tablets, set-top boxes ... what's next?

You don't necessarily think of Amazon as a hardware manufacturer, even though it has made and sold millions of Kindles, Kindle Fires and other e-readers and tablets.

Not to mention the Amazon Fire TV, the company's new set-top box. And soon, if industry gossip and leaked reports are accurate, there'll be an Amazon smartphone.

The Wall Street Journal says today that the phone is expected to be publicly introduced in June and to begin shipping in late September, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

It may be a little hard to see how the world needs yet another smartphone but the Journal says Amazon is trying to get out ahead of the pack with some spiffy new features -- including a 3-D effect that's achieved with four front-facing cameras.

The cameras track the movement of your retina and adjusts the image accordingly, making it seem to hover in front of your, sort of like a hologram.

Magic wand

Amazon is also said to be developing a wand-like device that would let you scan the barcode on grocery products that you want to order. They would then show up on your doorstep in a day or two. 

The idea is that, as the peanut butter jar starts becoming transparent, you swipe the wand across the bar code. That's it -- nothing else required.

Fire TV installation

As for Fire TV, we ordered one and hooked it up last week. As Amazon promises, our account was pre-loaded. We didn't have to type in our Amazon user ID or password and, somewhat puzzlingly, it also knew our Netflix ID. 

However, there was nothing quick about the installation. The box kept downloading updates and rebooting itself in a seemingly endless loop for about 15 minutes, which put us on edge as we were dying to get to the latest episode of "Extreme Cheapskates."

You would think that if Amazon takes the trouble to detect and load individual IDs and passwords when someone orders a Fire that it would also take a few seconds to flash the latest software updates, but apparently not.

Because of other consumerism emergencies, we didn't have much time to experiment with the voice commands but the few we tried worked perfectly. We found episodes of "True Detective" with no difficulty.

Reverse phone book

Some reviews have faulted the voice recognition for working only with Amazon titles, which may be true. But a fairer comparison would be to stack it up against the horrible Verizon FiOS DVR controls, which are about as elegant as a reverse phone directory.

True to their roots, which extend back to the telegraph days, the phone and cable companies use the oldest methodologies they can find, forcing customers to click through endless directory trees to find the program they're looking for -- a stupid system only the Dilberts could love.  

The old-school providers are also shameless in hawking their movie and on-demand rentals while customers search feverishly for the same titles that are usually available for no charge or a nominal charge on Amazon, Netflix and other new-generation networks.

Most consumers would probably be quite happy to do all of their viewing with a system as simple as those provided by Roku, Amazon, Google Chromecast and Apple TV. One of these days a major "content provider," to use the current moronic description, will tell the cable giants to get lost and cast their lot with the upstarts.

Or they can mimic daily newspapers, which sat calmly back and watched the Internet eat their business model. 

You don't necessarily think of Amazon as a hardware manufacturer, even though it has made and sold millions of Kindles, Kindle Fires and other e-readers an...

Amazon introduces its set-top box -- Fire TV

The tiny box is crammed with features, including predictive delivery and parental controls

Amazon today unveiled its new TV set-top box, dubbed "Fire TV," the latest addition to its Kindle line of products. As reporteda few weeks ago, the device will compete with Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV and gaming consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox.

“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price — people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly."

Fire TV starts at $99 and is available for immediate ordering, Bezos said. The device would include Amazon Instant Video, Prime Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus and other popular streaming services.

In an effusive press release, Amazon said Fire TV's quad-core processor has more than three times the processing power and four times the memory of Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3 for "exceptional speed and fluidity."

Predictive delivery

Amazon not long ago hinted it was working on a "predictive delivery" system, meaning that it would prepare and ship items that its software has decided customers are about to order. Fire TV is the first product to include that feature, dubbed ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction).

Amazon said ASAP "predicts which movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and buffers them for playback before you even hit play."

The device also includes games like Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, among others, at an average price of $1.85. 

Another feature, called Amazon FreeTime, lets parents choose what their kids see and set time limits for types of content and times of day — no more negotiating for one more show before bedtime.

"Customers who subscribe to FreeTime Unlimited — Amazon’s all-you-can-eat content subscription designed for kids ages 3 to 8 — will get unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows," Amazon said.

No set-up

Fire TV comes automatically pre-registered, which Amazon said allows consumers to get started with no set-up hassle.

"Just plug it in and start watching. All of your previously purchased movies and TV shows from Amazon, as well as personalized recommendations and your Watchlist, will be there waiting for you when you turn on Fire TV," the company said.

Fire TV (Amazon photo)Amazon today unveiled its new TV set-top box, dubbed "Fire TV," the latest addition to its Kindle line of products. As reported...

e-Book publishers dish out $166 million to readers in antitrust settlement

Five of six publishers have settled; Apple is still fighting the allegations

Now and then, struggling writers manage to get a few bucks for their efforts. But this week, it's readers who'll be getting paid. 

That's because five of the six biggest publishers of e-books will be sending more than $166 million to consumers, as either checks or a credit to their account. It's part of a settlement involving the publishers and 33 states.

 The states sued publishers Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Simon & Schuster Inc., Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, d/b/a Macmillan, and Penguin Group (USA) Inc., alleging anticompetitive activity. The publishers agreed to settle the suit by making the payments that will be going out this week.

A sixth publisher, Apple, Inc., refused to settle and went to trial. A court found that the publishers and Apple had engaged in an illegal conspiracy that restricted price competition and raised the retail prices of e-books. Apple has appealed and that case is still pending.

“Illegal actions by these publishers forced consumers in New York and across the nation to pay artificially inflated prices for e-books,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “Companies engaging in such anticompetitive conduct will be punished — and starting today, those injured by their actions will start to receive full and fair compensation.”

Under the settlements, consumers in the 33 states who purchased e-books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo or Apple will automatically receive a credit on their e-book accounts. Purchasers of e-books from Sony will automatically receive refund checks in the mail.

Consumers who purchased e-books from other retailers, and who filed a timely claim form with the Settlement Administrator, will receive refund checks in the mail.

For more information on the settlements, visit www.ebookagsettlements.com.

Now and then, struggling writers manage to get a few bucks for their efforts. But this week, it's readers who'll be getting paid. That's because fiv...

Amazon video-streamer just about ready to ship, report says

This might not be the time to cancel your Prime membership after all

Wait! Don't cancel that Amazon Prime membership just yet. Amazon is said to be ready to start shipping its long-rumored video-streaming device early next month.

The Amazon device will be similar to Roku, Google Chromecast and Apple's set-top boxes and will give consumers access to popular video services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go and, of course, Amazon. 

The Wall Street Journal says the device will be sold at Best Buy and Staples, as well as online at Amazon.com. 

Pricing isn't yet known but it's likely that some kind of incentive will be offered to Amazon Prime members. Beyond a discount of some kind, the obvious question is: why would you buy this if you weren't a Prime member since Prime includes access to original Amazon production and hundreds of other TV series and movies?

Pricing remains unclear, though the people familiar with the company's plans said the device likely would come with incentives available to members of Amazon's Prime streaming video and shipping program. Last week Amazon said it is increasing the price of Prime by $20 to $99 annually, in part because of the rising cost of acquiring video.

Most of the existing set-top boxes are relative inexpensive and also -- refreshingly -- relatively simple. Amazon's device is expected to similar. It will run on a version of Google's Android operating system, as do Amazon's Kindles.

Besides producing more original TV shows like poitical comedy "Alpha House," Amazon is said to be in talks with music publishers, apparently hoping to create an on-demand music-streaming service.

Wait! Don't cancel that Amazon Prime membership just yet. Amazon is said to be ready to start shipping its long-rumored video-streaming device early next m...

Survey: Prime price increase hurts Amazon's brand

Rivals, notably ShopRunner.com, rush to recruit Amazon deserters

Amazon may have underestimated the negative blowback from its decision to raise the price of its Prime memebership to $99, according to a survey conducted over the last few days by Brand Keys, a leading retail research consultancy.

"Consumer expectations are always on the increase, and when it comes to online retail, they operate in a 'what-have-you-done-for-me-recently?' paradigm. Price increases weren't what Prime Members were expecting," said Robert Passikoff, found and president of Brand Keys.

Amazon announced the 25% price increase a week ago following rumors that it would raise the rate by as much as 50%.

In a survey conducted by Brand Keys March 14-16 among 1,050 Amazon Prime members, metrics– showed that the Amazon brand took a blow to its normally high overall brand engagement and loyalty evaluations.

Loyalty evaluations among Prime members were down 10%, from 93% to 83%. Customers also took to the web and social media to vent their frustrations.

"I've been a Prime member for a couple of years but I am reconsidering it now," said Karen Hesse, a California notary public in a Facebook posting. "Now that Prime membership is taxed as well, I have to see if Prime saves me more than $110 a year. I like the free videos and the lending library that come with the membership but I don't think my use is that great."

Engagement takes a hit

Brand diagnostics showed that the price increase resulted in significantly negative effects to two important emotional engagement drivers for the Online Retail category: 'Brand Reputation' and 'Brand Value.'

"When a brand misses the mark when it comes to consumers' expectations, 'expectation' quickly becomes 'disenchantment,' and based on these assessments. Prime members seem really disenchanted with the Amazon brand right now," said Passikoff.

"Hard as it is to believe, there was time when consumers ordered a product, they paid for shipping and if they weren't happy, they paid to return it. It worked exactly like consumers expected it would," noted Passikoff, "but today that seems like a distant era?"

Zapposification

In 2003 Brand Keys called it the 'Zappos-ification of America,' brand differentiation and consumer engagement à la free shipping and returns and speed of delivery. Zappos, the innovative online shoe retailer, told consumers they'd receive their order in five days, but delivered in two. Consumers were pretty happy.

"'Delighted' you might say," said Passikoff. "And in order for other brands not to look as though they were lagging, they too offered free shipping and returns. This took various forms and offers, but in short order, consumers came to expect it, which is precisely the nature of delight, expectations, and brand engagement."

Amazon has been the No. 1 brand in Brand Keys' Customer Loyalty Engagement Index for as long as the category has existed.

For $79 a year members received free two-day shipping and access to a raft of free streaming videos, exclusive content, and added values like free e-book borrowing.

Tolerably happy

"If people weren't precisely delighted to pay, they were tolerably happy to get things fast and not pay extra. Estimates vary from category-to-category, but membership programs like these tend to attract consumers who spend more, sometimes significantly so. So it should work out for everyone, right?" said Passikoff.

Passikoff said there appear to be business justifications for Amazon's decision -- chiefly higher shipping costs -- but he said that consumer decision-making is more emotional than rational and explanations about higher costs don't placate customers anymore.

He noted that an online rival, ShopRunner.com, a site that guarantees two
-day delivery from many of the retailers on their site, has already offered to waive its $79 annual fee to anyone "disgruntled" by the Amazon price hike.

"Amazon should have expected that," said Passikoff.

Amazon may have underestimated the negative blowback from its decision to raise the price of its Prime memebership to $99, according to a survey conducted ...

Amazon confirms it: Prime membership going up to $99

It's the first increase in five years, the company notes

Amazon has made it official: its popular Prime membership program will set you back $99, a $20 per year increase. In its defense, Amazon notes it's the first price increase in five years and says it reflects rising delivery costs and a widely expanded menu of services.

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"Since 2005, the number of items eligible for unlimited free Two-Day Shipping has grown from one million to over 20 million," Amazon said in an email to its Prime customers today. "We also added unlimited access to over 40,000 movies and TV episodes with Prime Instant Video and a selection of over 500,000 books to borrow from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library." 

The annual fee gets users free two-day shipping and access to Amazon's Prime video streaming service, which includes thousands of movies and TV shows as well as a growing list of original productions, and a free book-lending program.

There are rumors Prime members will also soon include a streaming music service, similar to Spotify.

There had been earlier reports that the price would be going up by as much as $40. The increase becomes effective on each customer's renewal date. 

 

Amazon has made it official: its popular Prime membership program will set you back $99, a $20 per year increase. In its defense, Amazon notes it's the fir...

Amazon Prime looks at raising its Prime membership fee

Free shipping, free videos, it's almost too good to be true

If you're an Amazon Prime member, you're in good company. So are 25 million or so other consumers. For $79 per year, you enjoy free two-day shipping on many purchases and a growing library of free streaming videos. 

Back when Prime started, it sounded a little too good to be true, which raised our suspicions, so we ordered a lawn mower just to see what would happen. What happened was that two days later, a large box containing a lawn mower showed up on our front step. And yes, the price was lower than nearby stores.

So Prime is a pretty good deal, maybe a little too good. Which is why Amazon is finally starting to talk about raising the fee by as much as 50 percent, a move that would add about $500 million to Amazon's bottom line.

Kind of odd

Amazon is, to say the least, unusual. It has for years put growth and customer service ahead of profit. It's a strategy that has paid off, sort of. It has produced stellar growth and unprecedented loyalty -- revenue growth of 22 percent last year, 10 times greater than Walmart's 2.2 percent growth rate and greater than the worldwide average ecommerce growth rate of 18 percent.

All that is great, but the company is still not consistently profitable, and Prime is part of the reason. It's estimated Amazon loses $1 to $2 billion on Prime each year.

All of this might be OK if Amazon was a private company that didn't have to answer to investors, but it's not, and Wall Street would like to see a bottom line that has a lot of zeros after the quarterly profit.

So if you were planning to order, let's say, a snow blower or some other big bulky item without getting stuck for the shipping cost, this might be the time to do it. 

If you're an Amazon Prime member, you're in good company. So are 25 million or so other consumers. For $79 per year, you enjoy free two-day shipping on man...

Amazon working on a retail check-out system that uses the Kindle

Everybody is trying to capture point-of-sale transactions

 There are two or three lines of business that all the big technology companies want a piece of, and perhaps the one with the most potential is retail check-out -- or point-of-sale payment processing, as it's sometimes called.

Back when everyone paid cash or wrote checks, a dumb old cash register was all that was needed. Then credit cards came along and everyone added a card reader. Now most retailers have integrated systems that combine payment, some form of backroom inventory control and perhaps a loyalty program.

Big retailers have big complicated systems like, uh, Target and Neiman Marcus. It's going to be awhile before they're scrapped, which may or may not be a good thing.

Smaller systems

Ah, but small and medium-sized retailers -- they tend to have small standalone systms that at the most consist of a handful of check-out stations. That's what PayPal, Google, Apple, Samsung and everyone else would like to take over.  

The latest reported entrant in the race is Amazon, which already has just about the slickest online payment and inventory control system of anyone. A report in the Wall Street Journal today says Amazon has dreamed up a way of using the Kindle as a point-of-sale device.

Just how it would work isn't quite clear at this point but early reports say retailers would use the Kindle to record sales and, if necessary, a credit card reader to swipe the card of customers not already in the system. Amazon, we would remind you, has 230 million customers in its database, which gives it a big headstart.

It could also offer retailers economical website development, data analysis and other perks that smaller merchants often can't afford.

Why is everybody so eager to get into bricks-and-mortar retail, which is supposedly dead on its feet? It's pretty simple: bricks-and-mortar still accounts for 90% of retail sales and a big chunk of that comes from small merchants, the very ones Amazon is said to have in mind.

All of this is still in the research and development stage and may never happen, but it's a plan that sounds a lot simpler than some of the other daydreams that are floating around in the clouds these days.

There are two or three lines of business that all the big technology companies want a piece of, and perhaps the one with the most potential is retail check...

Amazon's latest patent takes speedy delivery up a notch or two

"Anticipatory delivery" forecasts purchases and gets them into the pipeline

Amazon lets no grass grow under its customers' feet. Its one-click shopping eliminates the tedious shopping-cart procedure that most other e-commerce sites cling to and its delivery times continue to shrink towards same-day.

But that's not quite fast enough, as Amazon sees it. Next up is "anticipatory shipping" -- newly-patented by Amazon. The patent application was filed in 2012 and granted on Dec. 24 last year.

Amazon hasn't said much publicly about it but the idea is that its software already has a pretty good idea of your interests, shopping patterns and most recent browsing behavior. It's not too much of a leap from there to predict what you may be buying in the next day or two.

Been staring at that Acer Ultrabook? Amazon wants to start it rolling so that it's as close as possible to -- and maybe even on -- your doorstep when you finally get the nerve to hit the "buy" button.  

It goes a bit beyond that, actually. The patent also speaks of refinements to Amazon's inventory system. It doesn't just want to speed up delivery, it wants to be sure it doesn't run out of the items its customers appear just about ready to buy.

This is not really so unusual.

After all, retailers already engage in trying to read the minds of their customers. You think Walmart stocks all those beer coolers just before football season because it thinks they're attractive and will make their stores look more festive? 

Obviously, there are pitfalls in this but there are also pitfalls in not being able to fulfill customers' wishes quickly. So it may just be that Amazon is once again several steps ahead of its competitors, with or without those drones everyone was droning on about a few weeks ago.

Amazon lets no grass grow under its customers' feet. Its one-click shopping eliminates the tedious shopping-cart procedure that most other e-commerce sites...

Amazon's Kindle Fire blazed new trails over the holidays

Activations jumped 63% from the December average, far outpacing Apple

If you fired up a new Kindle Fire over the holidays, you were in good company -- so did millions of others. A report by the analytics firm Flurry says Kindle Fire activations on Christmas Day were 24 times the average for the first three weeks of December.

Apple and Samsung devices both turned in low single-digit gains. Apple was also outpaced in laptop sales, with Google Chromebook sales quadrupling during the first 11 months of the year. 

What do the Fire and the Chromebook have in common? That's right -- low price. The Kindle starts at $139 for the 7-inch model and you can pick up a Chromebook for $199.

In both cases, the devices are basically gateways to the goods and services their manufacturers are selling. Amazon sells the books, movies, music and thousands of other products that you can buy and, in some cases, consume through the Fire.

Ditto with the Chromebook. It exposes you to all things Google -- ads, a social network, books, movies, music ... well, you get that idea.

Of course, Apple has iTunes but its mercantile activities pale beside its competitors and it shows in the price of Apple's products. A MacBook Pro will set you back $1,400 or so and an iPad fetches $400 or more, depending on size and configuration. 

Amazon sells Kindle tablets at cost, putting them within the Christmas budgets of more people than some other devices. The reason Amazon sells tablets at cost is that they are a channel for promoting physical goods and promoting and delivering digital content,” stated a blog post today by Mary Ellen Gordon, Flurry’s head of research.

Amazon is stingy with sales information but said last week that it sold “millions” of Kindle devices during the holiday season. The Cyber Monday shopping weekend was the best ever for Kindle Fire tablets and Kindle e-readers. While impressive, its 24-fold increase in Christmas activations was down from 40-fold and 35-fold gains in each of the prior two years.

However, it should be noted that in the overall tablet market, Amazon doesn’t come close to challenging the share of Apple or Samsung, which had about 30% and 20%, respectively, of the market as of the third quarter, according to an IDC estimate. 

The most likely interpretation of that statistic is that we're willing to cheap out when buying presents but when the gift is for ourselves, we stick with higher-end merchandise.

If you fired up a new Kindle Fire over the holidays, you were in good company -- so did millions of others. A report by the analytics firm Flurry says Kind...

Amazon working on delivery drones to speed purchases to consumers

Jeff Bezos says Prime Air's goal is 30-minute delivery of small items

The other day, we ordered some memory chips for a computer we were messing with. We placed the order about 10 a.m. on Amazon and the confirmation said delivery would be by 8 p.m. the same day.

Actually, the chips didn't show up until after 9 p.m. but it was still pretty impressive, and gave us time to get the chips in and working before the next grueling day of sorting through consumer grins and gripes.

Amazon has been working towards same-day delivery for quite some time but the company's founder and CEO. Jeff Bezos, unveiled a potential quantum leap last night in an interview with Charlie Rose on the CBS News show "60 Minutes" -- a small drone that Bezos says will be able to deliver packages up to 8 pounds within half an hour.

Now these aren't the drones the U.S. uses to kill people, although Bezos admits there are still some safety issues to be addressed and he cautioned that it will likely be several years before the drones come whirring to a neighborhood near you, bearing DVDs, books, dog treats, gluten-free flour and the other tidbits consumers turn to Amazon for.

The prototype that Bezos displayed last night looks sort of a like a mechanical octopus and the prototype was appropriately called an "octocopter" or, more formally a Prime Air Vehicle.

“I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not,” Bezos insisted. 

Story continues after video

Prime delivery

The octocopters will be an upgrade for Amazon's millions of "Prime" customers, who now get free two-day shipping for $79 a year.

Bezos said the octocopters have a range of about 10 miles, which puts them in reach of millions of customers in major urban areas. Of course, those major urban areas also have a lot of other things going on and it's not too hard to imagine an octocopter colliding with a bicyclist or passing pigeon but Bezos said technology is being developed to handle such bothersome issues.

No one has yet mentioned plans for delivering to apartment buildings, which are, after all, pretty common in urban areas. Is the octocopter going to be able to ring the intercom and wait to be buzzed in? Can it tip the doorman?

There will also doubtless be some lengthy discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This, after all, is the agency that took decades to decide it would be OK for people to use their wireless devices in flight. How likely is it the FAA will simply nod and say, "Sure, whatever" when presented with the spector of hordes of flying delivery drones zipping through the atmosphere?

Actually, says Amazon, the FAA is already aware of the issue and is beginning to cogitate about it.

"The FAA is actively working on rules and an approach for unmanned aerial vehicles that will prioritize public safety. Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards," Amazon said in a press release.

"One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today," the press release claimed.

The other day, we ordered some memory chips for a computer we were messing with. We placed the order about 10 a.m. on Amazon and the confirmation said deli...

Amazon vs. brick-and-mortar stores: whose prices are the lowest?

Short answer: It depends. There's no one-size-fits-all answer

Just yesterday came news that Amazon is raising the minimum purchase limit required for free shipping, from $25 to $35.

And today, the Lifehacker blog published the results of a weeks-long price comparison it did between Amazon and various brick-and-mortar retail businesses, asking “Is it actually cheaper to order everything from Amazon?” and concluding that the answer is “Not always, even when the shipping costs are free.” 

But results vary based on what sort of item you’re buying, as well as what store you’re buying it from.  If you’re in the market for small appliances or electronics, Lifehacker found, Walmart is generally cheaper than Amazon, but Amazon is cheaper than Best Buy.

Lifehacker also determined that where grocery costs are concerned, Amazon is routinely more expensive than regular grocery stores. However, it’s worth noting that food costs can vary wildly depending on where you live or what time of year it is.

(Speaking for ourselves, we’ve noticed one specific subcategory of groceries where Amazon is consistently cheaper than retail stores: import items, bought in bulk. We personally are addicted to a certain British candy bar which, in America, we’ve only ever seen for sale in the expensive “British tea shops” you’ll see in touristy areas, or occasionally in the “British imports” section of certain upscale grocery stores. Compared to what such stores charge, that candy bar sells for half the price on Amazon—if you buy a dozen at a time.) 

When selling physical books, Amazon either ties or beats prices at Barnes and Noble, but for ebooks, Amazon offers no across-the-board benefits compared to its competitors: some titles sell for more, some for less, others about the same.

Here’s a good rule to follow, whether you’re shopping from Amazon or anybody else: never assume anybody automatically offers the best price on everything. A few minutes spent comparing prices now can save you a lot of money later, when you’re ready to make your purchase.

Just yesterday came news that Amazon is raising the minimum purchase limit required for free shipping, from $25 to $35. And today, the Lifehacker ...

Amazon offers Kindle versions of previously purchased print books for $2.99 or less

It's the latest "bundle" that makes content available in different wrappers

If you think about it, a book is really not much different from a song, a movie or a newspaper. They're all content embedded in a delivery medium -- paper, vinyl, a CD or a digital file on your hard drive or in the cloud.

Copyright law generally allows you to make a copy of, let's say, an album you bought in LP form. You can legally play the record and capture the content in a new medium -- a CD or your hard drive. To use plainer language, the printed book is sort of a wrapper for the content created by the author.

Online giant Amazon already gives you a digital version of any CDs you buy and now it's making a similar offer for its Kindle customers, with a new program called "Kindle Matchbook."

Matchbook lets you buy the Kindle edition of print books you purchased new from Amazon. Print purchases all the way back to 1995 — when Amazon first opened its online bookstore — will qualify once a publisher enrolls a title in Kindle MatchBook. Amazon said.

Over 10,000 books will already be available when Kindle MatchBook launches in October, including best sellers like I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and The Hangman’s Daughterby Oliver Pötzsch, with many more titles to be added over time. 

“If you logged onto your CompuServe account during the Clinton administration and bought a book like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus from Amazon, Kindle MatchBook now makes it possible for that purchase — 18 years later — to be added to your Kindle library at a very low cost,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President of Kindle Content. “In addition to being a great new benefit for customers, this is an easy choice for publishers and authors who will now be able to earn more from each book they publish.”

Amazon said that "bundling" print and digital has been one of the most requested features from customers. With Kindle MatchBook, they can keep their favorite book on their shelf, and have a copy in their digital library for reading.

Customers can learn more by visiting www.amazon.com/kindlematchbook. 

If you think about it, a book is really not much different from a song, a movie or a newspaper. They're all content embedded in a delivery medium -- paper,...

Apple loses e-book antitrust case

Judge finds Apple conspired to eliminate price competition

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled against Apple, finding it liable for violating the antitrust laws by conspiring with major U.S. publishers to fix the prices of electronic books. A Seattle attorney representing consumers in a class-action lawsuit said the court's ruling should hasten the progress of the consumer case. 

That case, filed on Aug. 9, 2011, seeks damages for millions of e-book purchasers to compensate them for higher e-book prices resulting from Apple and the publishers’ alleged price-fixing scheme. 

“Judge [Denise] Cote ruled definitively that Apple was guilty of conspiring to fix prices for e-books, and we believe this ruling is binding on the consumer case, meaning we do not need to again prove Apple’s culpability in the price-fixing scheme,” attorney Steve Berman said. “Once we receive class certification, the only issue that will remain is for a jury to assess damages, which under federal law are trebled, or tripled.”

Three-week trial 

The judge’s opinion comes after a three-week bench trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York that ended June 20. The court found the federal and state government plaintiffs demonstrated that five major publishers “conspired with each other to eliminate retail price competition in order to raise e-book prices, and that Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing that conspiracy.” 

“The publishers and Apple manipulated the marketplace by artificially increasing prices,” said Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said, one of 33 state AGs joining in the action. “As confirmed by the Court today, that is against the law and it is wrong.”

The court’s order and opinion only addressed the issue of Apple’s liability under federal and state antitrust law. Issues involving damages and other remedies are still to be decided. 

The publishers -- Hachette Book Group Inc.; Harper Collins Publishers L.L.C.; Simon & Schuster Inc.; Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC d/b/a/ Macmillan; and Penguin Group (USA), Inc. -- had settled lawsuits filed by states and others against them prior to trial, which will result in consumers nationwide receiving more than $166 million in compensation provided the court approves all of the settlements.

"Masterfully prosecuted"

Berman said the ruling didn't surprise him.

“When we filed the original consumer case, we were certain that e-book purchasers across the country were victims of a well-organized price-fixing scheme organized largely by Apple,” said Berman. “We were heartened when the Department of Justice and the states filed their own anti-trust cases. Those cases were masterfully prosecuted, culminating in today’s ruling.”

A U.S. District Court Judge has ruled against Apple, finding it liable for violating the antitrust laws by conspiring with major U.S. publishers to fix the...

Supermarkets shiver as AmazonFresh gets rolling

Will Kroger be the next Borders?

It's kind of a sad sight, actually. Watch carefully next time you're at the supermarket and chances are you'll find an employee trudging up and down the aisles filling a shopping cart from a list.

Is the employee stocking up before heading home after his or her shift? Maybe, but it's more likely they're filling an order that's been placed through the supermarket's web site.

Supermarkets, like the Giant/Stop & Shop chain on the East Coast have been trying to edge into the digital age with services like Peapod, which lets consumers order groceries online. But on the fulfillment end, we leave the Information Age behind and revert to an hourly worker pushing a cart around, then loading the stuff onto a truck.

Remember Borders?

It's this rather down-at-the-heels operation that Amazon is planning to split wide open. The online giant is reported to be planning a major roll-out of AmazonFresh, an online grocery business that it has been quietly developing for years. Observers expect Amazon to do to the grocery business what it did to the bookstore business. Namely: decimate it.

Think about it for a minute. Amazon's brand of online shopping, combining a huge selection, highly competitive pricing and almost instant gratification, has thrived even among consumers who enjoy roaming the mall in search of cool clothing, household accessories or books. Think what it will do to the chore nearly no one enjoys -- shopping for groceries. 

Amazon's development efforts have been most evident in its hometown of Seattle, where for the last five years it has been delivering fresh produce such as eggs, strawberries and meat with its own fleet of trucks.

Today Seattle, tomorrow ...

Reports say Amazon is now ready to spring AmazonFresh on a wider universe, starting with Los Angeles and the San Francisco area later this year. If things go well there, at least 20 more cities are said to be on the list in 2014. 

Amazon has been building huge warehouses close to major urban areas over the last few years, after it made a strategic decision to start charging sales tax. The company had previously located its warehouses outside populous states as a tax-avoidance measure.

Moving the warehouses closer to end users in big cities and fielding its own fleet of trucks puts Amazon in a position to challenge not only supermarkets but general retailers of all kinds by combining same-day delivery with the convenience of online ordering through its highly sophisticated network.

It's a combination that strikes fear into the hearts not only of supermarket executives. Stores like Walmart and Target could feel the bite, as could UPS and FedEx, which now deliver the majority of Amazon's orders in most areas.

 

It's kind of a sad sight, actually. Watch carefully next time you're at the supermarket and chances are you'll find an employee trudging up and down the ai...

Penguin settles e-book price-fixing suit for $75 million

Apple, which led the alleged conspiracy, faces trial this summer

Penguin is the latest publisher to settle price-fixing allegations. The company has agreed to pay $75 million to resolve complaints by 33 states accusing it of price-fixing and collusion in the market for electronic books, or e-books, a conspiracy allegedly orchestrated by Apple.

It's the fifth settlement growing out of investigations conducted by Connecticut and Texas that so far have paved the way for recovery of approximately $164 million for consumers nationwide. The settlement also applies to private class-action lawsuits filed by consumers alleging that the company’s behavior violated unfair competition laws, causing consumers to overpay for e-books.

Apple is the only remaining defendant and is currently scheduled to go to trial in the Southern District of New York on June 3, 2013.

“Consumers are entitled to a fair, open and competitive marketplace,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. “This agreement is yet another step toward providing restitution to those consumers who were harmed by alleged price-fixing within the e-book market and will further ensure that, going forward, consumers benefit from fair competition in the sale of e-books.”

If approved by the court, the settlement with Penguin will provide significant consumer restitution and should result in greater competition in e-book sales in the future. The agreement grants e-book retailers greater freedom to reduce the prices of e-book titles and provides $75 million to compensate affected consumers nationwide.

Apple's day in court

Jepsen said he is looking forward to seeing Apple in court.

"Connecticut, along with Texas, is leading the upcoming trial effort against the remaining defendant, Apple, on behalf of our partner states, and we will aggressively seek to obtain additional compensation for consumers in our respective states who have been injured by the illegal conspiracy we allege in our complaint,” he said.

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, a consumer-rights law firm in Seattle, has represented consumers in the class action cases that are being litigated in conjunction with the case brought by the states.

“This proposed settlement is a powerful demonstration of what is possible when federal, state and private class antitrust enforcement lawyers work together,” said Steve W. Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “In this case, the level of cooperation was unprecedented, and the results that we were able to deliver to the states and consumers demonstrate that.”

Late last year, Penguin settled similar claims with the Department of Justice. Under that settlement, Penguin agreed to end its allegedly anticompetitive agreements with Apple and other retailers for a period of two years.

Agency model

In December, Berman was appointed lead counsel to represent the rights of consumers in the consolidated class-action lawsuit first filed on Aug. 9, 2011.

It alleges that the defendants coordinated a switch to an agency model, where publishers would set the price, rather than retailers. The result, the lawsuit claims, was a dramatic increase in the price of many e-books as retailers were contractually forbidden from competing on price. The suit sought to compensate consumers for overpayment as a result of the pricing agreement.  

“Penguin's senior management deserves credit for working with us and the attorneys general to reach a comprehensive agreement in such a hotly contested case,” said Jeff D. Friedman, Hagens Berman partner. “They’ve agreed to a settlement that will go a long way toward making e-book consumers whole and restoring a thriving, again-competitive e-book marketplace.”

Penguin is the latest publisher to settle price-fixing allegations. The company has agreed to pay $75 million to resolve complaints by 33 states accusing i...

Amazon introduces 'Send to Kindle' button

Kind of an underwhelming idea, critics say

See something on the Web that you'd like to read later? There's now a feature on some sites that lets you send a Web page to your Kindle, so you can read the article later -- you know, on the beach, in your hammock or, more prosaically, on the train.

Amazon, logically, calls it the "Send to Kindle Button" and it's now available on The Washington PostTIME, and the popular blog Boing Boing.

Unlike a smartphone app, this is not something you can download and use on any site. The button must be installed by the site operator, so it won't be available everywhere, at least not right away.

Amazon proudly introduced the button on its Kindle Daily Post, which was quickly peppered by comments from readers asking why, if the button is so great, it doesn't appear on the Kindle blog.

"Why don't you have a Send to Kindle button on this blog?" asked a reader named Devon. "Cool idea but same question as Devon," chimed in Stephen.

"Readability has had this for years now," said Jacob. "And it works on any site you want!"

Better browser?

Other skeptics might ask why Amazon doesn't simply build a better browser for the  Kindle, one that would let users download any page they wanted but there was no reining in Amazon's enthuasiasm. 

Consumers rate Amazon.com

"Have you ever encountered news, blogs, articles and other content on the web that you want to read but don't have time to do so immediately? The Send to Kindle Button lets you easily send that content to your Kindle to read later, at your convenience," the company's blog burbled happily. "Just send once and read everywhere on any of your Kindle devices or free Kindle reading apps for iPhone, iPad and Android phones or tablets. No more hunting around for that website or blog that caught your eye -- just open your Kindle and all the content you sent is right there.

"The Send to Kindle Button is also great for those who want to collect content from the web to use in work projects, school assignments, or hobbies."

Some would say this is sort of like going back in time, back to the days when we clipped -- really clipped, with scissors -- articles out of newspapers and magazines and stuffed them away, planning to read them later. Most were never found again, of course, but that's another story.

Where's my paper?

Some Kindle addicts were perhaps rather find a way to get digital content they're already paying for without having to pay again to have it "Kindleized."

Newspaper readers, for example, who pay for home delivery and/or digital subscriptions to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other papers are routinely assured that they'll have full digital access at no additional charge.

It's true that you can read the paper on your laptop, iPad and even your smartphone, if you have shockingly good vision. But on the Kindle? No one seems to know how to do this without paying $20 or so per month for the content we've already paid for.

Might be something the Kindle Daily Post could look into, no? 

See something on the Web that you'd like to read later? There's now a feature on some sites that lets you send a Web page to your Kindle, so you can read t...

Is self-publishing your book even worth it these days?

Many people do it, and they should, but they'll first have to adjust their expectations.

Do you remember when the term “Do it yourself” pretty much applied to home repairs and fixing things?

It became the advertising slogan for many hardware stores, which told people to release their inner Bob Villa, even if they didn’t possess a thick beard and a flannel shirt.

Today, the do it yourself slogan means much more, thanks to the infinite reach of the Internet, and for practically little or no money, one can move a good product idea or business plan from their head, to the drawing board and out to the masses fairly quickly.

These days, doing it yourself can either mean you’re reaching for a hammer or you’re hammering down on your keyboard trying to perfect an idea, and this new type of digitized self-containment has made it easier for the dreamer to become the doer, further blurring the once very visible line between buyer and seller.

In addition, the Internet gave folks new avenues to release their self-made products and most of those avenues didn’t lead to some office building with a closed-minded decision maker inside, because those guys love telling you that your idea isn’t any good and they won’t financially back it.

Anybody can write, right?

Consumers using the Internet to fuel their ideas is surely happening in music, it’s happening in fashion and in the small business world too, but arguably one of the biggest places the Internet has empowered the person who says, “Maybe I’ll do it one day,” is in the world of authors and people who choose to self-publish their book.

Sure the Internet will allow everyone who wants to write a book the chance to publish it, but there’s a slight problem with that, and that is -- well, the Internet allows everyone who wants to write a book the chance to publish it, which means your book can easily get lost and go completely unnoticed in a sea of other self-published titles.

Not to mention having to compete with those authors who have book deals and a PR team that can market their books around the clock.

So the question is, is publishing your own book even worth it these days?

Shawn Welch who, along with his partner Guy Kawasaki, wrote "APE: How to Publish a Book," says yesAPE is an acronym for author, publisher, entrepreneur.

Welch says that a person has to be realistic about the recognition and financial rewards one might be looking for.

“The average indie author sells less than 150 copies of their book, which means on average, indie authors make between $500-$1,000 on a self-published book (if they sold it for $4.99), said Welch in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.

“The reason you hear about self-published millionaires in the news is because they’re rare, not because they are commonplace," he said. "If you want to write a book, that’s great. In fact, Guy and I think everyone who wants to write a book, should write a book. It is truly one of life’s great accomplishments.”

But Welch says if you want to be a self-published author, your motivation has to come from a different place other than a place of wanting to get rich.

“If you’re writing a book because you want to make money or pay off your mortgage, you’re probably doomed from the beginning,” he says.

“Very few people can turn out a good book when the motivation is money. Money should be a side-effect not a goal. Before you write a book you should ask yourself, ‘Will this book add value to people’s lives?’ Because that is the number one reason to write a book. If you have a book that adds to people’s lives, it will probably sell.”

“Writing and publishing a book is an end in itself, it is not a means to an end," adds Welch. 

"If the reality that you probably won’t make a lot of money self-publishing discourages you from writing, ask yourself why you were writing in the first place and why that reason would cause someone to pick up your book out of the thousands available.”

Furthermore, he says self-publishing really isn’t a decision, as much as it is the only avenue for most authors, because an extremely small portion of writers actually get book deals.

Deciding between self-publishing and shopping for a book deal is a “superficial choice,” he says and if you do happen to be among the 0.1% of authors who get a book deal, you’ll still have to endure long wait times and a bunch of industry battles.

“Most authors don’t have the option of choosing between self-publishing or signing a traditionally published deal,” says Welch. “If you’re lucky enough to have a deal on the table, and you don’t want to deal with the hard work involved with self-publishing, then absolutely sign a traditionally published deal, take the advance and smile.”

“But, if you’re like the other 99.99% of authors today, you don’t have a choice. It will take you 6-18 months to get a traditional publisher to respond to your proposal, so why not self-publish in the meantime? The reality is traditional publishers sign authors that already have a platform to sell books. In today’s market, an author name sells a book more than the publishing company imprint. So many traditional publishers look for authors that are already well known.”

“So if you are shopping your book around, one of the best ways to prove you’re worth signing on is to show that people want to buy your books. What better way than that to point at the sales of your self-published books? It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

Stranger than fiction

For those of you who write fiction, writing an ebook is the best route to go, and by using Kindle, you’ll have immediate access to Amazon’s incredibly large clientele, which certainly doesn’t hurt, says Welch.

“For fiction, ebooks make up a large percentage of the market cap,” he explains.

“This isn’t necessarily true for non-fiction books, so print isn’t completely dead. But for fiction, you can do very well with just ebooks. Kindle is great because for fiction authors it makes up 80% or more of the market.”

“Print isn’t dead, but ebooks are much easier to self-publish," he says. "And to simplify matters, with one platform, and one format, you can reach a very large market. In today’s world, Amazon owns the ebook market. So a self-publishers would be foolish to ignore it.”

And how much will self-publishing actually run you?

Although using the Internet to self-publish is less expensive, it’ll surely cost you more than just a few bucks, so if you’re expecting to spend a tiny amount to get your book off the ground, you might be disappointed.

“$4,000 is a very realistic number,” says Welch.

“In general, you should budget $1,000 for content editing, $1,000 for copyediting, $1,000 for a cover, and $1,000 for book production. If you know someone who is willing and able to do one of these tasks for free, you can certainly save some money, and it’s possible to find these services for less and more. But just because you self-publish does not mean these tasks go away.”

Nothing is worse than a debut book filled with typos, misspellings, factual errors and other amateurish blunders. Such mishaps are marginally acceptable in daily news publications and amateur blogs but not in book and magazine publishing.

And if you’re a busy parent who loves writing and you always thought about publishing your own book, Welch says that you should start writing now; if you wait for the perfect time to start typing those pages, you might be waiting forever.

In addition, he advises that parents and busy adults should make a conscious decision to carve out writing time on a daily basis, as opposed to trying to find the right time when things aren't hectic.

“There’s never a good time to write a book,” says Welch.

“If you wait until the house is clean, the kids are doing well in school, or that one project is finally finished, you’ll never start. History is full of people who bootstrapped their efforts in the middle of the night to achieve something they really want.”

“If you really want to write a book, you have to make the time. Time won’t just appear out of nowhere,” he says.

Do you remember when the term “Do it yourself” pretty much applied to home repairs and fixing things?It became the advertising slogan for man...

Poll shows Amazon is the most respected company

Amazon ousted Apple from the top spot this year

Amazon has edged out Apple in this year's Harris Poll Reputation Quotient Study. Whole Foods also got high marks.

According to the poll, Amazon ranked highly for having the best products and services, which is impressive for an Internet company that doesn’t have any physical locations, but those who worked on the poll say Amazon has done a stellar job of building trust among consumers and having a strong reputation overall.

“Our results show that Amazon has managed to build an intimate relationship with the public without being perceived as intrusive and we characterize this year’s overall findings as the great muddling of corporate America,” says Robert Fronk, Executive Vice President of Reputation Management at Harris Interactive.

Consumers rate Amazon.com

Some of our readers have also expressed how much they like using Amazon like Sarah of Tulsa, Okla., who said she has been pleased with how easy the site is to use for finding new books, especially since she’s been using her iPad lately to do much of her reading.

“I have been purchasing books for my iPad on Amazon via the Kindle app for 2 years and have never had a bad experience,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs posting. “It’s easy to find any book I want in an Amazon search. Most books are available for Kindle and the one click purchasing process is so easy. I have it delivered directly to my iPad and within one minute of deciding that I need to read a book, I am reading it on my iPad.”

Amazon beat out Apple for the best overall reputation score, and closing out the top five in that category were the Walt Disney Company, Google and Johnson & Johnson.

Amazon didn’t only win in the reputation category and for its products and services, but it also scored the highest when it came to having that emotional appeal that consumers sometimes look for -- whether it’s satisfying a customer’s humorous side or selling items that cater to the love a person has for their family.

The other dimensions that the Harris Poll used to determine a company’s reputation included its level of social responsibility (Whole Foods) financial performance as well as vision and leadership (Apple) and best workplace environment (Google).

Amazon along with Google and Apple also scored high in categories like outperforming competition, being the most trustworthy and the most respected among consumers.

Amazon still remains one of the most well-liked companies doing business today, according to the 14th annual Harris Poll RQ Study that ranks different comp...

Macmillan agrees to $20 million ebook price-fixing settlement

Suits charged the publisher conspired to fix the price of ebooks

The Macmillan publishing house has agreed to pay about $20 million to settle ebook price-fixing charges. It's the last of five publishers to settle the charges. 

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Macmillan would create a settlement fund totaling $20 million from which claims to consumers who purchased e-books would be paid. In addition, the publisher has agreed to lift restrictions on discounting for e-books and will not be allowed to enter into new agreements restricting prices until December 2014.

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, a Seattle consumer-rights law firm, 33 state Attorneys General and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reached the settlement Friday.

The settlement resolves claims filed by the DOJ, numerous state governments, and a class-action suit brought by Hagens Berman on behalf of a nationwide class of consumers.

Earlier, Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers L.L.C. and Simon & Schuster Inc. agreed to pay a total of more than $69 million to consumers to resolve the claims. Hagens Berman’s complaint estimated that the scheme may have increased the prices of many e-books by as much as 50 percent by eliminating the ability of retailers to offer discounts.

Macmillan was the last of five defendant publishers to settle claims brought by the DOJ. In that case, Apple is the only remaining defendant, with a trial scheduled for June, 2013. In the consumer class-action case, Penguin and Apple have not agreed to a settlement.

The settlement must be approved by the court before funds can be distributed.

The Macmillan publishing house has agreed to pay about $20 million to settle ebook price-fixing charges. It's the last of five publishers to settle the cha...

E-reader use jumps seven percent this year

Nearly a quarter of U.S. consumers have read an e-book this year

More consumers are reading books on tablets and e-readers. A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that in the past year, the number of those who read e-books increased from 16 percent of all Americans ages 16 and older to 23 percent.

At the same time, the number of consumers who read a printed book in the previous 12 months fell from 72 percent to 67 percent.

It should come as no surprise that the trend toward e-reading is occurring at a time when more consumers own a tablet or e-reader. The number of people who own either a tablet computer or e-book reading device such as a Kindle or Nook grew from 18 percent in late 2011 to 33 percent in late 2012.

Rapid growth

As of November about 25 percent of U.S. consumers ages 16 and older own tablet computers such as iPads or e-readers like Kindle Fires, up from 10 percent who owned tablets in late 2011. In the latter part of this year 19 percent of Americans ages 16 and older owned e-book reading devices such as Kindles and Nooks, compared with 10 percent who owned the devices at the same time last year.

Thanks to the iPad, tablet ownership has overtaken e-readers in the U.S., according to the survey. In May of 2010 four percent of the population had an e-reader opposed to three percent who owned tablets. By November of this year, 25 percent owned a tablet whole 19 percent had an e-reader.

It should also come as no surprise that people who read e-books have more income and more education. The survey found that those most likely to have read an e-book have a college or graduate degree and live in households earning more than $75,000 a year.

A demographic breakdown of consumers shows growth in e-book consumption across the board. Men and women use them almost equally and the largest age group reporting e-book use is the 30-49 segment.

Not yet peaked

In the breakdown, all groups showed an increase in e-book use in the last year, suggesting the trend has yet to peak.

Amazon.com pioneered the e-book with the first Kindle, a gray-scale electronic reader that could download an electronic version of a book. It was introduced in 2007 as a single device. Today there are several versions, including the full color Kindle Fire, which is more of a tablet.

Barnes and Noble introduced an e-reader called the Nook in November 2009. The original Nook included both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.

In April 2010 Apple changed the game with the introduction of the iPad tablet computer, which also operated as an e-reader. Since then other manufacturers have produced by e-readers and tablets, making e-books more accessible to consumers.

More consumers are reading books on tablets and e-readers. A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that in the past year, the number...

Want to Shop Locally? Amazon Is Happy to Help

Online giant's new Vine.com offers "local" products from its massive warehouses

Look out, local retailers. Amazon is at it again. Until now, Amazon has mostly been selling big national brands -- basically offering the same thing no matter where you live. This makes it a headache for Best Buy and Walmart but doesn't do too much to upset local specialty shops.

But that's all changed. Amazon now owns Vine.com -- which is sort of the online version of that cute little boutique in the quaint old building downtown that sells chintzy little crafts and maybe some fancy soaps and candles.

Vine is part of Quidsi, which Amason bought in 2010. It also operates baby and toy sites but it's Vine.com that's likely to cause some pretty serious heartburn on Main Street. That's because it not only features organic products and "trusted green solutions" but also "local" products.

"When you shop Local on our site, you're buying products made within 100 miles of your selected city," the site burbles. "That means you're the ultimate good neighbor -- helping local businesses thrive and supporting the economic wellbeing of your community."

And what are these quaint little cities where you can buy locally made goods? Well, for now, it's an even dozen: New York City; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Philadelphia; Denver; Los Angeles; Chicago; Boston; Milwaukee; Raleigh, North Carolina; Minneapolis, and Seattle.

We were a little insulted to see that our hometown of Washington, D.C., wasn't listed. But maybe because there's already so much of what we make here that nobody would want to buy any more of it. But that's another story.

Perhaps what's likely to be most upsetting to local merchants is that shoppers won't realize that while they're trying to be a "good neighbor," they're really pouring more money into Amazon's coffers, instead of the ones on Main Street. That's because there's no mention of Amazon on the Vine.com site. 

Do consumers care? Maybe not, especially when they're getting Amazon's super-efficient one- and two-day delivery while preserving the illusion that they're shopping locally.

You'll recall that Amazon has recently begun making nice with local governments -- agreeing to pay sales tax in many cities. This enables it to open warehouses closer to big cities, making one-day and even same-day delivery more feasible, and making it that much harder for local retailers to defend their turf.

Look out, local retailers. Amazon is at it again. Until now, Amazon has mostly been selling big national brands -- basically offering the same thing no mat...

First Gen Kindle Fire Now Comes Without Wall Charger

They've cut the price but you'll probably have to buy something to charge it with

Amazon recently introduced a new generation of Kindle Fire devices at price points starting at $499, a move that seems to have been generally well received by technology consumers.

While the new Kindle HD devices won't ship until November 20, you can still buy the original first generation Kindle Fire. To make it more attractive, Amazon has dropped the price of this seven-inch tablet from $199 to $159.

But the deal might not be as good as it appears. Now, when you purchase the original Kindle Fire, it no longer comes with a charger that plugs into a wall electrical outlet. Previously, these chargers were included with the Kindle Fire.

Instead of the charger the $159 device comes with a USB cable, that connects the unit to a computer. But even Amazon concedes that's a less-than-satisfactory answer.

Included charging tool isn't recommended

"Charging your Kindle Fire through your computer is not recommended," the company says on its website. "The power from a USB port on your computer is insufficient to fully charge your Kindle Fire."

Some consumers have noticed. A poster, going by the handle "Old School," complained in an Amazon review.

"My seven-year old son has the 1st gen Kindle Fire, and we've been very happy with it," she wrote. "My five-year old wanted one too, so we just purchased the Kindle Fire for her. We've had it now for three days, and while it's still the same great product, we were disappointed to find after receiving the device that the Fire comes WITHOUT a wall charger."

Walmart advertises a Kindle Fire charger kit, which includes an auto charger, for $20. Some smartphone chargers may also work with the Kindle Fire.

But if you order one of the old units for $159, you'll have to find a way to charge it, one way or the other.

  Amazon recently introduced a new generation of Kindle Fire devices at price points starting at $499, a move that seems to have been general...

Walmart Joins Target, Gives Amazon's Kindle the Boot

Retailers hit back at online giant but does anyone care?

Perhaps the most iconic futile gesture of the current epoch is "unfriending" someone whose Facebook comments we find trite, offensive or just plain old boring. Chances are, our former "friends" will neither know nor care.

And that about sums up the latest attempt by brick-and-mortar retailers to hit back against Amazon, the Internet giant that is slowly but inexorably eating the lunch of just about every retail segment you can think of. OK, Amazon's not selling used cars or puppies yet, but just you wait.

The latest to take a swing at Amazon is Walmart, which announced today it will stop selling the Amazon Kindle e-readers. Target did the same thing last May.

Consumers rate Amazon

Of course, the Kindle and Kindle Fire continue to sweep the country like, well, wildfire, but never mind that -- Walmart and Target are tired of people looking at stuff in their stores and then buying it online, sometimes while actually standing there flat-footed in the stores.  

Retailers call this the "showroom" effect -- shoppers using their stores to look at stuff they then buy online. 

Walmart said snippily today that it will continue to carry "a broad assortment of tablets and e-readers and accessories at a variety of great price points."

Last we heard, Best Buy and Staples are still selling the Kindle, not that Amazon is likely to be too concerned. Amazon doesn't break out sales results for the various Kindle models, but no one disputes that Amazon and Apple are taking the lion's share of the e-reader and tablet market, with Barnes & Noble, Samsung and others somewhere back in the pack.

Retailers might want to consider whether eliminating Kindles is a good idea with the holiday shopping season bearing down on them. After all, the devices are popular gifts that could draw purchasers into their stores, where they might then find something else to buy. Who knows -- they might even buy it in the store instead of ordering it from Amazon.

Perhaps the most iconic futile gesture of the current epoch is "unfriending" someone whose Facebook comments we find trite, offensive or just plain old bor...

Survey: Consumers Who've Purchased a Tablet Like It

Most people who've bought one would do it again

Three years ago a tablet was something your parents wrote in when they went to school. Now, it's synonymous with mobile computing, all but replacing laptop computers. If you are thinking of buying one of these devices, your fellow consumers who have one are giving it a thumbs up.

In its first Tablet Satisfaction Survey, J.D. Power and Associates finds that tablet owners spend 7.5 hours per week browsing the Internet, watching videos, listening to music, and reading books on their device, compared with spending 9.6 hours per week on a personal computer for the same activities.

Apparently they enjoy the experience. Overall satisfaction is 857 on a 1,000-point scale among owners who view three or more hours of video per week on their tablet. That's 45 points higher than among those who do not.

Let's have another

In addition, those who spend three or more hours viewing video content are more likely to purchase another tablet from their current manufacturer in the future than are those who do not watch as much video content.

"As tablet computing, multimedia, display, and application offerings continue to evolve, their impact on usage patterns will continue to grow," said Dr. Uma S. Jha, senior director of mobile devices at J.D. Power and Associates. "Tablets are a force in the marketplace that offer a great alternative to laptops and netbooks."

The study focuses in on consumers who have owned their tablet for less than two years. Satisfaction is measured across five key factors, including performance, ease of operation, styling and design, features and price.

Apple leads the pack

Apple, which was the first to enter the space with the iPad, ranks highest, logging a score of 848. It also gets high scores for performance, ease of operation, styling and design and features.

Amazon, which introduced the Kindle Fire a year ago and recently updated the line with three new models, is close behind Apple with a score of 842. It scores particularly well in the price factor since the current Kindle Fire is $300 cheaper than the entry-level iPad.

The study also found that tablet owners who also have smartphones tend to use their tablets more than their phones. And why not? The screen is larger and the same apps and features are available, in most cases.

While tablets were initially looked at as toys, one-quarter of the respondents in the survey said they use their tablets for business purposes. More than one-third said they plan to buy a new tablet within the next 12 months.

Among tablet owners who are highly satisfied -- those rating their device 10 on a 10-point scale -- 90 percent say they are likely to purchase additional consumer electronic devices from the same manufacturer.

  Three years ago a tablet was something your parents wrote in when they went to school. Now, it's synonymous with mobile computing, all but ...

e-Book Prices Heading Down in Wake of Antitrust Settlement

The $9.99 e-book is back at Amazon, iBook and BN.com

It's been just a few days since a U.S. federal court judge approved an antitrust settlement between some book publishers and the Justice Department and already the $9.99 e-book is back.

Popular author Michael Chabon's newly-released "Telegraph Avenue" is selling for $9.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble's BN.com and Apple's iBook. Compare that to the $12.99 to $14.99 range at which many e-books have been priced over the last few years. 

So far, the new lower price applies only to HarperCollins titles. Simon & Schuster and Hachette Book Group have also settled the antitrust suit but have not yet reached new deals with online booksellers.

Penguin and Macmillan continue to fight the suit, as does Apple, a defendant in the case.

Apple and the booksellers still face a major civil antitrust suit that claims Apple conspired with the five major publishers to raise the price of e-books, dominate the market and force Amazon to stop selling at a discount. The conspiracy worked so well that e-books now cost as much or more than paperbacks, the class action claims. 

Not everyone thinks the settlement is great news for consumers though. Writing in the Los Angeles Times today, columnist Michael Hiltzik argues that while those low prices look great today, they may be "designed to drive off all of Amazon's e-book competition — and kill off the last remaining brick-and-mortar bookstores too — so it can set its own prices as it wishes down the line."

"In essence, the government walked blithely past the increasing threat of an Amazon monopoly and went after the stakeholders who were trying to keep it from taking root," Hiltzik suggested.

However they may feel privately, publishers are trying to put a bright face on the matter.  

“HarperCollins has reached agreements with our e-retailers that are consistent with the final judgment,” HarperCollins spokeswoman Erin Crum said in a statement. “Dynamic pricing and experimentation will continue to be a priority for us as we move forward.”

 

 

 

It's been just a few days since a U.S. federal court judge approved an antitrust settlement between some book publishers and the Justice Department ...

Amazon Backs Off Kindle Ad Policy

Will allow buyers of new Kindles to turn off ads if they pay $15

When Amazon introduced its new line of Kindle Fire tablets last week, consumers were for the most part delighted at the prices. But there was a catch that didn't get a lot of attention right away.

The 4G version of the 8.9 inch Kindle Fire HD will retail for $499, the same price as the entry-level iPad. The Wi-Fi version will sell for just $299; the seven inch version for just $199.

But it turns out Amazon could justify those prices because the new devices would display ads that consumers couldn't turn off. The reasoning, according to the company, was that advertisers would subsidize part of the cost for consumers. With ad revenue, the company is able to basically sell the units for below cost.

Apparently this was not discussed at the news conference on Thursday when the new products were introduced. It was generally assumed there would be an advertising -- referred to as “special offers” -- opt-out, just as there is on the current tablet.

But CNET quoted an Amazon spokesman on Friday as saying there would no be an opt-out with the new products. In other words, consumers were stuck with the “special offers,” whether they like it or not.

A number of tech sites quickly jumped on the issue and over the weekend, Amazon responded with an alternative. Consumers could pay an extra $15 and turn off the ads.

Reuters quoted an Amazon spokeswoman as saying most customers “love our special offers” and she didn't expect many consumers to opt out of the ads.

CNET reports the opt out feature will be provided on both the new HD tablets and the entry-level Fire device that retails for $159. The new HD tablets will be available sometime in November.

When Amazon introduced its new line of Kindle Fire tablets last week, consumers were for the most part delighted at the prices. But there was a catch that ...

Amazon Releases Three New Kindle Fire Models

The new models have more storage and speed and are easier on the eyes

Amazon's Kindle Fire turned lots of heads when it debuted less than a year ago. It was a seven-inch tablet -- not just an ereader -- but cost only $199. What do you do for an encore?

Amazon has introduce three new tablets -- what it calls the “Kindle Fire HD family.” Two of the three have 8.9 inch screens. The 4G version sells for $499 -- the entry price point of an iPad -- and the WiFi version sells for $299. The third model, the Kindle Fire HD, is the updated version of Amazon's seven-inch tablet selling for the old price of $199.

“We’re taking on the most popular price point for a tablet, $499, but doubling the storage and incredibly, adding ultra-fast 4G LTE wireless,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Kindle Fire HD is not only the most-advanced hardware, it’s also a service. When combined with our enormous content ecosystem, unmatched cross-platform interoperability and standard-setting customer service, we hope people will agree that Kindle Fire HD is the best high-end tablet anywhere, at any price.”

Cheap data

The 4G model offers a $50 a year data package that Amazon says will save customers hundreds of dollars. It includes support for all 10 4G bands, has upgraded audio capability and dual antenna, dual band WiFi.

The Kindle Fire HD starts with 16 GB of local storage, enough to accommodate the larger file sizes of HD content. Amazon says it has improved the battery life, claiming the seven-inch model can go eleven hours between charges.

As the name implies, the new Kindles are easier on the eye. They offer custom HD display with in-plane switching and a screen with less glare and richer color.

Amazon would obviously like to repeat the performance of the original Kindle Fire, which the company calls the most successful product launch in its history, citing industry figures showing it captured 22 percent of the U.S. tablet market in its first nine months.

Includes a camera

Unlike the original Kindle Fire, the new HD models possess a front-facing HD camera with custom Skype application for video calling.

However, the old Kindle Fire is getting an upgrade along with a price reduction. New versions of the old tablet will include a faster processor, doubled memory capacity and longer battery life. Instead of $199 it will sell for $159.

While Apple introduced the first tablet computer, Amazon pioneered the first e-readers, the forerunner of the tablet. Amazon still sells grayscale versions of its Kindle e-readers, starting at $79.

Meanwhile, the competition in the tablet space is heating up. Microsoft is expected to release its new tablet, running on Windows 8, later this year. Apple has scheduled a press event for next week at which is widely believed to be a launch of a new, mini iPad. There are dozens of other tablets in various price ranges all vying for consumers' attention, all competing to sell a product that didn't even exist three years ago.

Amazon's Kindle Fire turned lots of heads when it debuted less than a year ago. It was a seven inch tablet – not just an ereader – but only cos...

The Fire Is Out, but Look Out -- Sparks Will Fly Next Week

Amazon says the Kindle Fire is sold out but schedules a news conference for Sept. 6

The fire is out.  The Kindle Fire, that is. The Fire broke out in the tablet market just nine months ago and already controls 22 percent of the market, with a new spark expected Sept. 6, when Amazon has scheduled a news conference in Santa Monica.

"We're grateful to the millions of customers who have made Kindle Fire the most successful product launch in the history of Amazon," CEO and founder Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "Kindle Fire is sold out, but we have an exciting roadmap ahead -- we will continue to offer our customers the best hardware, the best prices, the best customer service, the best cross-platform interoperability and the best content ecosystem."

So, those who parse statements for a living think Bezos is saying that the current model of the Fire is not only sold out but that it will be replaced by whatever is in the company's tinder box.

 

Consumers rate Amazon

Speculation is that Amazon will introduce seven-inch and 10-inch versions of the Kindle Fire next week, along with perhaps a backlit e-reader and maybe a gaming console or a phone.

 

Bloomberg reported recently that the Chinese plant that makes iPhones and iPads is already grinding out an Amazon phone that will rival the iPhone and Android phones.

It was just a year ago that Bezos introduced the Kindle Fire for $199. Skeptics at the time said it was a cheap knock-off of the iPad but, in fact, it has -- to carry the metaphor just a little longer -- caught fire and may soon be nipping at the iPad's heels.

It's not hard to understand why. The iPad starts at $499 while the Kindle Fire starts at $199 and does essentially the same thing. Add in the Google Nexus 7, which sells for $199 and the Microsoft Surface which will go on sale in September and it's pretty apparent that Apple faces a continuing loss of market share, while the Fire -- with its lower price and access to Amazon's enormous content warehouse -- is well-positioned to hold its own against Google and Microsoft.  

The fire is out.  The Kindle Fire, that is. The Fire broke out in the tablet market just nine months ago and already controls 22 percent of the market...

States Throw the Book at E-Book Publishers

Publishers will pay consumers $69 million for antitrust violations

In a story with a happy ending for consumers, the attorneys general of 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia, have reached an antitrust settlement with three of the largest book publishers in the United States.

“We believe publishers illegally fixed e-book prices and that as a result, consumers paid more – millions more – for these products,” Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “Today’s settlement ... turns the page on the way e-books are priced. Competition will be restored.”

Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers L.L.C. and Simon & Schuster Inc. have agreed to pay a total of more than $69 million to consumers to resolve the claims. 

The settlement is in conjunction with a civil antitrust lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster. 

 Competition undermined

“Unlawful collusion and price-fixing not only violates antitrust laws, it is anti-competitive and inconsistent with the free market approach that is critical to our economy," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "In this case, competition was undermined when publishers colluded to artificially set prices that should have been determined by the free market. Today’s settlements provide refunds to customers who paid artificially inflated prices for e-books and prohibit publishers from colluding, so that retail price competition is restored within the e-book market.”

The states allege that the three publishers and others, including non-settling publishers Macmillan and Penguin (collectively, the “Agency Five” publishers), “conspired and agreed to increase retail e-book prices for all consumers” and “agreed to eliminate e-book retail price competition between e-book outlets, so that retail prices to consumers would be the same regardless of which outlet they patronized.” 

As a result, the states allege that consumers paid millions of dollars more for their e-books.

The lawsuit and the settlement come from a two-year investigation conducted by the Connecticut and Texas Attorneys General and U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. 

Consumer compensation

Under the proposed agreement, which the court must approve, the three publishers will compensate consumers who purchased e-booksfrom any of the Agency Five between April 1, 2010 and May 21, 2012.  Payments will begin 30 days after final court approval of the settlement. In addition to paying restitution, the settling defendants will also pay to the states approximately $7.5 million in fees and costs.

The three publishers have agreed to terminate their existing agency agreements with certain retailers, requiring the publishers to grant those retailers – such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble – the freedom to reduce the prices of their e-book titles.  For two years they will be prohibited from making any new agreements limiting retailers’ ability to offer consumer discounts or other promotions which encourage the sale of e-books.  

The proposed settlement agreement also precludes the three publishers from further conspiring or sharing competitively sensitive information with their competitors for five years.  Also for five years, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster will be forbidden from entering into any agreement that could undermine the effectiveness of this settlement.

Another case against non-settling publishers-Penguin Group, Inc. and Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC (doing business as Macmillan) and Apple, Inc., remains pending in the Southern District of New York. 

 

 

In a story with a happy ending for consumers, the attorneys general of 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia, have reached an antitrust settl...

Barnes and Noble Cuts Price of Nook

Book seller trims its prices as seven-inch tablet war heats up

The real competition in the tablet wars may be among the seven-inch tablets. Not only are there more of these smaller tablets, the prices are getting lower.

Book retailer Barnes and Noble has cut the price of its 8GB Nook Tablet by $20 to $179. The 16GB unit has been reduced $50 to $199 and the Nook Color will sell for $149, a $20 price reduction.

All of this comes ahead of reports in the industry that the company is preparing to launch a new, updated version of the tablet. It also comes amid rumors that Apple plans to launch a smaller version of its iPad this fall, which industry analysts say would be a game-changing event in the small-tablet space.

Trying to gain on Amazon

The Nook started out as an e-reader, just like Amazon's Kindle, but Barnes and Nobel introduced the Nook Tablet last year in response to Amazon's Kindle Fire. Like the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet not only downloads books but music and video content as well.

Barnes and Nobel perhaps telegraphed the price reductions last month when it offered a discount on the 16GB Nook. The company has run a number of price promotions as it attempts to chip away at Amazon's market share.

Seven-inch tablets generally sell at the $200 price point, though you can purchase a lesser-known brand for less. If Apple does, in fact, introduce a smaller iPad, it is expected to enter the market at around $200.

The original iPad, a full-sized tablet with nine-inch screen, set the market at $500 when it was introduced in 2010.  

The real competition in the tablet wars may be among the seven-inch tablets. Not only are there more of these smaller tablets, the prices are getting lower...

Kindle Fire Blazing Away at iPad's Heels

The iPad is rapidly losing market share to the Kindle

Apple's iPad may still be the iconic tablet but Amazon's Kindle Fire is spreading like, well, wildfire, going from zero to 22% market share since its launch last fall, according to Frank N. Magid Associates, a research-based consulting firm in New York.

Meanwhile, continuing to round all the bases, Amazon has launched a video application for the iPad, its latest move to get its digital content on every imaginable gadget. 

In a recent survey of 4,734 cell phone and smartphone owners, Magid found that 50% of people with a tablet have an iPad. That doesn't sound so bad until you consider that previously that number had been more like 72%.

It's not hard to understand why. The iPad starts at $499 while the Kindle Fire starts at $199 and does essentially the same thing. 

Add in the Google Nexus 7, which sells for $199 and the Microsoft Surface which will go on sale in September and it's pretty apparent that Apple faces a continuing loss of market share. 

"We expect to see the iPad as the leader, but with the Surface, Kindle Fire, and Nexus as three solid competitors with significant market share," said Tom Godfrey, executive director of mobile strategy for Magid, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Amazon Instant

The Amazon Instant Video app lets users stream or download movies and TV shows bought or rented from Amazon on their iPads. Amazon has more than 120,000 videos to rent or buy, it noted.
 
Members of Amazon Prime, a free shipping program which costs $79 a year, can also stream more than 20,000 videos for free and the new iPad app gives these customers access to this content too, the company said.

Apple's iPad may still be the iconic tablet but Amazon's Kindle Fire is spreading like, well, wildfire, going from zero to 22% market share since its launc...

Reports: Smaller, Cheaper iPad On The Way

But some technology experts say they've heard this one before

The iPad, the first of the modern tablet computers, has plenty of company these days, especially with the entry of Google and Microsoft into the market.

So is Apple preparing to fight back with a smaller, cheap unit? Sure looks that way.

Technology sites are buzzing with week with speculation that the new iPad, expected later this year, will have a seven or eight inch screen, slightly smaller than the current model.

According to various reports, based on unidentified sources in Asian manufacturing plants, the new iPad would lack the high-def screen of the newest iPad model but would be priced on par with some of the lower-priced competitors.

While consumers might be interested in a smaller, cheaper iPad there's no shortage of opinion in the blogsphere about whether that's something Apple should – or would - produce.

Chris Davies of Slashgear notes the late Steve Jobs scoffed at the idea of a smaller tablet when competitors introduced them. Introducing a new “iPad Mini,” he says, would be “one of the biggest turnarounds to date.”

Anonymous sources

The rumors were fed this week by reports by both Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal, who said they found people who would talk about the details of the supposed product at component manufacturers. The sources said they expect the new product to be announced in October.

Bloomberg interviewed Shaw Wu, a technology analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach, who said a low cost iPad would be “competitors' worst nightmare.”

Right now, the starting price for an iPad is $499. Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire both have seven-inch screens but sell for $199, giving them a decided advantage among price-conscious consumers. An iPad product the same size and same price could deliver a hit to sales of both.

It could also upset the apple cart (no pun intended) for Microsoft, which recently announced plans to introduce its own tablet, the Surface. Though details are far from complete, the Surface is not expected to be a lower-priced tablet. Microsoft has yet to disclose price information.

But yet another tablet product coming out at the same time – especially one with the Apple nameplace – won't be helpful.

The iPad, the first of the modern tablet computers, has plenty of company these days, especially with the entry of Google and Microsoft into the market.S...

Amazon's Impersonal Service Rankles Some Consumers

Things generally go well but when they don't, solutions can be hard to find

After ordering a book for my dad for Father's Day at Amazon.com, two weeks prior to the actual holiday, I was told at the last minute that the book was out of stock and it couldn't be sent. This was a day before Father's Day.

No personal letter, no answer provided when calling, just a 'sorry for any inconvenience' kind of response.

Having to tell my father, "I sent you something Dad, but it's not coming and I have to reorder it" really stank! Especially because it was a gift for a man that's never missed a holiday, birthday, or any type of family deadline in his life. It led me to wonder, who else has experienced inadequate service from Amazon.com?

I found a large number of complaints from people like Daphne, who wrote ConsumerAffairs about Amazon keeping her money after they wrongfully sent her two books instead of one.

Daphne said after trying to contact the retail giant about the error, the company seemed to "hide from responsibility," and didn't provide any help, resolution, or refund.

One consumer, a Prime subscriber who places several orders each week, complained that he ordered a small item which never showed up, even though Amazon's system showed that it had been delivered.  He finally reached a human at Amazon, who directed him to an obscure menu entry where he could report missing shipments. 

"Although the Amazon representative seemed to think I was dense, I don't believe I would ever have found the menu entry on my own," this person, an online marketing executive, told us. He said the experience had shaken his faith in Amazon and made him less loyal.

"The representative was snippy with me and I spend thousands of dollars a year with them. I now make an effort to shop elsewhere whenever possible," he said.

There's no question Amazon has built a powerful brand. According to a ConsumerAffairs sentiment analysis of more than 12 million postings to social media over the last year, maintains a solid 60 percent positive net sentiment.

 

But some question whether Amazon's highly automated brand of service will sustain it as consumers grow more demanding and less tolerant of complications. Though most postings we analyzed were favorable, Amazon is not without its critics.

 

Mystery orders 

Some Amazon customers we heard from said they received orders from the company they didn't place.

Consumers rate Amazon

Sandra of Woodridge, Ill., said she received two cancellation notices from Amazon for items she never ordered. "Is somebody placing orders in my name?" she wrote to ConsumerAffairs. "I hope that is not possible."

Unfortunately it is possible, as Amazon customers recently reported being victims of a widespread phishing scam, and received emails from "digital-no-reply@amazon.com." In the email it said that the customer's order had been completed and the money has been extracted from their bank accounts. Scary, right?

The fraudulent emails looked to be authentic, as phishing scams often do. An investigation is currently underway.

Also, with many Linkedin and eHarmony members having their passwords stolen recently, plenty of Amazon customers are also worried, since many consumers use the same password for multiple sites.

And as far as shipping,the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a consumer watchdog group in the UK, said recently that Amazon's promise of overnight shipping is misleading. ASA's beef with the online retailer began after many customers didn't receive their packages in a day, although they paid extra for overnight service.

After a quick back and fourth between ASA and Amazon, an advertising loophole was revealed. It was learned that Amazon's premium one-day delivery service really meant packages could be sent one business day after the order is supposed to be shipped. Huh?

Oftentimes consumers will pay extra to use Amazon over third-party retailers, as a lot of consumers view the company as a trusted brand. But many customers have claimed Amazon's shipping services are no speedier or reliable than its cheaper and less known competitors.

When it comes to selling items on Amazon, many consumers say they preferred using eBay instead. According to a consumer survey conducted by the software company Vendio, 93 percent of respondents said the task of listing items on eBay's site was easier and less cumbersome than Amazon's site.

Between the potential of being the victim of a phishing scam, and being the victim of broken shipping promises, Amazon's record of consumer satisfaction is far from flawless.

Consumers should be aware of the fine print behind the companies advertising claims, while not being afraid of phoning Amazon and asking what its doing to ensure passwords and personal information isn't compromised.

Hopefully that will whip the company into better shape, so it can better provide for its many unhappy customers.

After ordering a book for my Dad for Father's Day at Amazon.com, two weeks prior to the actual holiday, I was told the book was out of stock and it couldn'...

Judge Rules in Favor of E-book Consumers in Civil Price-fixing Case

Federal judge rejects Apple and publishers’ attempt to dismiss case

A U.S. District Court judge today denied petitions by several of the nation’s largest book publishers and Apple seeking to dismiss a nationwide class-action lawsuit that accuses the companies of conspiring to illegally fix the prices of e-books. 

The 56-page ruling, issued by Judge Denise Cote of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, is the first substantive ruling in the litigation. It denies the companies’ motion to dismiss the case, allowing the case to move forward.

The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 9, 2011, and seeks to represent purchasers of e-books who the complaint says were forced to pay tens of millions of dollars more for their favorite titles because of a price-fixing scheme organized by the e-book publishers and Apple.

“We thought that Judge Cote’s ruling was spot on, especially when she noted that we’ve gone above and beyond in illustrating the legitimacy of our case,” said Steve Berman, lead counsel representing consumers in the nationwide class action and managing partner of Hagens Berman, a consumer-rights law firm. “We are eager to push forward with the case.”

In April, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York making very similar allegations to the civil case and citing much of the same evidence. It describes Apple and the publishers actively conspiring to wrestle control of the e-book market from Amazon while artificially driving up prices for consumers.

“We look forward to uncovering additional evidence in the discovery phase of this litigation,” said Berman. “We litigated this case because we strongly believe that consumers were harmed by Apple and the publishers’ tactics and we will not settle without an effective plan to repay consumers for their losses.” 

According to the class-action suit, the publishers believed that Amazon’s wildly popular Kindle e-reader device and the company’s discounted pricing for e-books would increase the adoption of e-books and permanently set consumer expectations for lower prices, even for other e-reader devices.

“Fortunately for the publishers, Apple was also terrified of Amazon’s pricing and the popularity of its Kindle device,” said Berman. “Rather than compete on merit, price and convenience, we intend to prove that the cabal simply tried to game the system.”

The case seeks to compensate e-book purchasers for losses incurred as a result of the alleged price-fixing scheme.

A U.S. District Court judge today denied petitions by several of the nation’s largest book publishers and Apple seeking to dismiss a nationwide class...

Amazon Adds Harry Potter to Its Lending Library

A bargain, and also a rebuke to U.S. publishers who keep their titles locked up

There are those who think Amazon is making literature more widely accessible than ever, and there are those who think the online giant is craftily building an invincible monopoly that will let it rule the world of reading with an iron fist.

Whatever your point of view, the latest chapter in the unfolding saga finds Amazon adding all seven volumes of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series to its lending library in the U.S. You can take your pick of English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. If this sounds like a small thing, keep in mind that the Hogwarts epic is the all-time bestselling book series in history.  

Potter fans who subscribe to the Amazon Prime service will be able to check out e-book editions of the Potter series free starting June 19, on the same terms as other titles in the library. Prime members can check out one book per month. But don't despair, fast readers. Amazon has has lots of really cheap e-books, many for as little as $1.99.  Some of these titles are not exactly Chaucer but if you read them quickly enough, they're not too bad.

It doesn't hurt to mention that, unlike a bricks-and-mortar library, Amazon's e-library has an unlimited number of copies.  You don't have to put your name on a waiting list and wait for your chosen title to become available. Slow readers take note: there's no limit on how long you can keep a copy, although you can't check out an additional title until you turn in whatever you're plodding through at the moment.

Amazon tells us there are about 145,000 titles in its lending library, which is pretty impressive, considering that the nation's six largest publishers have refused to let their titles be included. There's been a lot of litigation and general back-and-forth over this. Basically, the publishers think -- apparently -- that making it cheap and easy to buy books will somehow decrease the reading public's appetite. 

Amazon's licensing agreement with Rowling's Pottermore publishing house amounts to a stinging rebuke to the U.S. publishers who are trying to hold back the tide.

Of course, nothing's entirely free. To be a Prime member costs $79 a year but besides free books a subscription gets you free shipping on many Amazon items, access to an extensive library of 17,000 movies and TV shows available via streaming video.

There are those who think Amazon is making literature more widely accessible than ever, and there are those who think the online giant is craftily building...

Say It Aint So! The Kindle Fire Loses Its No. 2 Spot

Samsung knocks the Kindle Fire out of second spot

Through TV commercials and overall public chatter, Amazon's Kindle Fire is certainly growing in popularity, but popularity doesn't always translate into sales, which has been the case for the newly released Amazon tablet in the first quarter.

After a very strong sales run in the fourth quarter when the Fire was first released, the Fire fell from its No. 2 spot behind Apple in tablet sales. Reports show the company's shipments decreased from almost 17 percent of total sales during the fourth quarter to only 4 percent during the first, pushing Amazon to No. 3, while giving the No. 2 spot up to Samsung.

Although Apple remains at the top of the heap, its tablet sales also fell, shipping 11.8 million iPads in the first-quarter, which is down from 15.4 million in the fourth. But it's not all dismal news for the Cupertino, Calif., company, as it still was able to raise its market share from 55 to 68 percent.

Rounding out the top five spots in tablet sales were Lenovo at No.4 and Barenes & Noble at No. 5, with its Nook tablet.

Price points

"It seems some of the mainstream Android vendors are finally beginning to grasp a fact that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Pandigitial figured out early on: Namely, to compete in the media tablet market with Apple, they must offer their products at notably lower price points," said IDC Research Director Tom Mainelli, in a statement to the press.

"We expect a new, larger-screened device from Amazon at a typically aggressive price point, and Google will enter the market with an inexpensive, co-branded ASUS tablet designed to compete directly on price with Amazon's Kindle Fire," Mainelli added.

With Amazon's plans to release an improved version of the Kindle Fire 7-inch, as well as introducing future tablets that will run Windows 8, the company anticipates a promising future as roll-outs will begin near this years fourth-quarter.

"The worldwide tablet market is entering a new phase in the second half of 2012 that will undoubtedly reshape the competitive landscape," said O'Donnell. "While Apple will continue to sit comfortable on the top for now, the battle for the next several positions is going to be fierce. Throw in Ultrabooks, the launch of Windows 8, and a few surprise product launches , and you have all the makings of an incredible 2012 holiday shopping season.

Through T.V. commercials and overall public chatter, Amazon's Kindle Fire is certainly growing in popularity, but popularity doesn't always translate into ...