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kottke.org posts about Amazon

2017 Amazon Prime Day deals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2017

Prime Day, a holiday1 invented by Amazon to sell more stuff and sign up Prime members, is upon us once more. I know you don’t need more stuff, but if you do, there are some good deals to be had.

Many of the Echo/Alexa devices are available at their lowest prices ever. The flagship Echo is $90 (50% off), the Dot is $35, and the Tap is $80. (I actually have no idea what those last two things are.) The Dash Wand (which I have and have used sparingly so far…the kids use it mainly to hear jokes) is back in stock and is still essentially free (it’s $20 with a $20 credit after activation).

Amazon is also offering special deals for items ordered with Alexa devices, I guess to get people used to ordering with their voice from their electronic butlers?

The Kindle Paperwhite, still my favorite gadget, is $30 off.

Use the code PRIMEBOOKS17 to get $5 off book purchases over $15.

Exploding Kittens is $14, the 23andMe DNA testing kit is 50% off, this 4TB external hard drive is $110, and these All-Clad cookware sets are 40% off at checkout (All-Clad is amazing).

Update: Everyone’s favorite pressure cooker is on sale: the 8-qt Instant Pot is $90 (30% off).

  1. You laugh at me calling this a holiday, but someday Prime Day will be a bank holiday and members will have the day off. As my pal Matt Webb tweeted recently: “It’s 2047. Amazon Prime membership is now paid as a percentage of your income and includes healthcare”.

The Accidental Shop

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2017

Accidental Store

If kottke.org ran a store, what would that look like? (Like this, but hold that thought for a second.)

Lots of things on kottke.org happen by accident. When I started writing here in 1998, it wasn’t supposed to be a blog. An offhand comment by a friend led me to turn a hobby into a job that I’m still doing 12 years later. A lunch conversation last summer with someone I’d never met before saved the site from financial ruin. kottke.org was never supposed to host fan sites for Wes Anderson and Jane Jacobs or vertical blogs about sports, politics, and climate change.

kottke.org was also never supposed to be a store. But as the years piled on, so did the links to all sorts of interesting books, movies, music, and other products that people could buy. I’ve collected many of those products into The Accidental Shop. The shop contains over 2000 items from 19+ years of posts. You can dip into it by filtering by the most recent items mentioned on the site, my top picks, and with a random selection of items. The default view is a weighted combination of recent, top picks, and random which tries to achieve a blend of recency, serendipity, and relevance. Clicking on the item image will take you to the Amazon page for that product. Most of the items are accompanied by a link to the most recent kottke.org post mentioning that item, so the shop also functions as an alternate way of browsing through the kottke.org’s extensive archive.

This is very much a first version of the shop. Right now, all of the items are from Amazon (if you buy something via the shop, I get a small affiliate fee), but I will be adding non-Amazon items to the shop in the near future — stuff like Tattly, 20x200 prints, pastrami from Katz’s, and kottke.org memberships. I will also be adding a localization feature so readers in Canada and the UK will see links to their respective Amazon stores.

So that’s The Accidental Shop. As always, let me know what you think via email or on Twitter.

P.S. Thanks to kottke.org members for their help with The Accidental Shop. I shared an in-progress version with them on my members-only mailing list a couple of months ago and received lots of great feedback and encouragement. If you’d like to help out on future projects or just lurk on the newsletter, become a member today.

Update: How about a little behind-the-scenes info? I’ve been doing web design since 1995, and I’ve always wanted to design and build an online store but never had the chance. So this was pretty fun. To build the shop’s catalog, I went through and scraped all ~25,000 posts I’ve done over the past 19 years, looking for product links to Amazon. The script found almost 2300 distinct items and put them into a database, noting the dates of the initial & most recent mentions and the # of mentions for each item. Then I used Amazon’s Product Advertising API to retrieve all sorts of information about each item, including title, type (book, eBook, kitchen, DVD, etc.), price, image, and the creator (a book’s author, a movie’s director).

Once that was done, I built the shop interface with an admin function for rating each item on a scale of 1 to 4 (or 0, which excludes the item from the public shop altogether). I used the admin interface to rate every single item in the database — it only took a few hours while watching reruns of ST:TNG on Netflix. Then I wrote a script to assign a “score” to each item based on: my rating, how recently it was mentioned, the frequency of mentions, and a couple other factors. The highest scoring items are an eerily accurate reflection of what I am interested in and what I talk about on the site. FYI, the current highest scoring items: Infinite Jest, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the Kindle Paperwhite, The Victorian Internet, the Harry Potter books, 1491, and The Making of the Atomic Bomb, all of which I’ve mentioned on the site 10+ times.

The layout is pure CSS…I’m using the column feature to create a quick & dirty Pinterest-style layout. Each of the store filters (recent, top picks, random) is randomized to give you a slightly different product assortment with each page refresh. The scoring and rating system, combined with the semi-randomized output, makes for a lively and ever-changing store interface without me having to constantly pick which items go where in the layout. A high-maintenance, just-so layout that’s updated daily would undoubtedly work better — but probably not way better and as a one-person operation, I don’t have that kind of time anyway. This is pretty much the approach I use for all my projects: do the most I can with the least possible effort. Make it appear complex but work simply. As Milton Glaser said: “Just enough is more.”

Why did Amazon buy Whole Foods? World domination.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Amazon’s New Customer is a really great analysis by Ben Thompson of Amazon’s strategy and why Amazon bought Whole Foods: they purchased a new customer for Amazon infrastructure, not a retailer. Early on in the piece, Thompson lays this one on us:

Amazon’s goal is to take a cut of all economic activity.

No qualifiers. All economic activity. In the world. Sort of a Dutch East India Company for the internet age. Thompson explains how they’re going to do it and why fresh food is such a strategic hole for them.

As you might expect, given a goal as audacious as “taking a cut of all economic activity”, Amazon has several different strategies. The key to the enterprise is AWS: if it is better to build an Internet-enabled business on the public cloud, and if all businesses will soon be Internet-enabled businesses, it follows that AWS is well-placed to take a cut of all business activity.

On the consumer side the key is Prime. While Amazon has long pursued a dominant strategy in retail — superior cost and superior selection — it is difficult to build sustainable differentiation on these factors alone. After all, another retailer is only a click away.

This, though, is the brilliance of Prime: thanks to its reliability and convenience (two days shipping, sometimes faster!), plus human fallibility when it comes to considering sunk costs (you’ve already paid $99!), why even bother looking anywhere else? With Prime Amazon has created a powerful moat around consumer goods that does not depend on simply having the lowest price, because Prime customers don’t even bother to check.

This, though, is why groceries is a strategic hole: not only is it the largest retail category, it is the most persistent opportunity for other retailers to gain access to Prime members and remind them there are alternatives. That is why Amazon has been so determined in the space: AmazonFresh launched a decade ago, and unlike other Amazon experiments, has continued to receive funding along with other rumored initiatives like convenience store and grocery pick-ups. Amazon simply hasn’t been able to figure out the right tactics.

When I heard about the Whole Foods deal, the first thing I thought about was Amazon Go. The company has been trying to experiment with different retail environments, but without the proper scale, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Whole Foods gives them a chance to develop their fresh food delivery infrastructure at scale…so that they can offer it to other customers just like they do with AWS.

P.S. Whenever I think about Amazon as a business, I recall this 2012 post by Eugene Wei on Amazon’s low-margin strategy. I suspect Thompson’s post will join it in my thoughts.

Ikea products are now available on Amazon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

Ikea Bag

Ikea products have long been available on Amazon from 3rd-party resellers, but now Ikea is officially selling hundreds of their products on Amazon. Among the items that caught my eye are the iconic blue Frakta bags, the best kids’ drinking glasses ever made (we have dozens of these…love them), a kids’ foot stool, the Swedish meatball sauce packs, and those ubiquitous Glimma tea lights. Also, lots of rugs, picture frames, candles, bedding materials, and many of the other things that are good to stock up on. (via fast company)

Update: I am an idiot. All this Ikea stuff on Amazon is from resellers…the same stuff that’s been available for years on the site. (Same deal with all the Muji items on Amazon.) I mean, they are still genuine Ikea products and some of it isn’t even available from Ikea’s online store. Anyway, not such a huge deal. I was wondering why Ikea would be adopting such a if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em attitude towards Amazon; turns out they’re still just trying to beat ‘em.

Update: Just the other day, Reuters reported that Ikea will test selling items through third-party websites.

“I leave unsaid on which (platforms), but we will test and pilot, to see ‘what does this mean, what does digital shopping look like in future and what do digital shopping centers mean?’,” he said.

IKEA, known for its warehouse-like stores, has recently restructured to give its retail arm more freedom. The Swedish firm has never sold its goods through another company and is also trying new smaller store formats and stepping up integration of stores and online to adapt to new ways of shopping.

(via @checkdisout)

Amazon’s data-driven bookstores

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Amazon Bookstore

Over at Recode, Dan Frommer has a look inside Amazon’s first NYC bookstore, opening Thursday in the mall in the Time Warner Center. I haven’t visited any of Amazon’s stores yet (they’ve got several around the country), but what I find interesting from the photos is how up-front they are about the shopping experience being data driven. There are signs for books rated “4.8 Stars & Above”, a shelf of “Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less”, a section of “If You Like [this book], You’ll Love [these other books]”, and each book’s shelf label lists the star rating and number of reviews on Amazon.com. Another sign near the checkout reads “Over 7950 Goodreads members like this quote from Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince: ‘We live and breathe words.’”

Other bookstores have books arranged according to best-seller lists, store-specific best-sellers, and staff recommendations, but I’ve never seen any store layout so extensively informed by data and where they tell you so much about why you’re seeing each item. Grocery store item placement is very data driven, but they don’t tell you why you’re seeing a display of Coke at the end of the aisle or why the produce is typically right at the entrance. It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon’s approach works or if people will be turned off by shopping inside a product database, a dehumanizing feeling Frommer hints at with “a collection of books that feels blandly standard” when compared to human curated selections at smaller bookstores.

P.S. So weird that there’s no prices on items…you have to scan them with a store scanner or a phone app. Overall, the store feels less oriented towards its book-buying customers and more towards driving Prime memberships, Amazon app downloads, and Kindle & Echo sales (which might be Amazon’s objective).

Update: Jia Tolentino on Amazon’s stores.

The store’s biggest shortcoming, though, is that it is so clearly not intended for people who read regularly. I normally walk into a bookstore and shop the way a person might shop for clothes: I know what I like, what generally works for me, what new styles I might be ready to try. It was a strange feeling, on Thursday, to do laps around a bookstore without feeling a single unexpected thrill. There were no wild cards, no deep cuts, no oddballs — just books that were already best-sellers, pieces of clothing I knew wouldn’t fit me or that I already owned.

Tolentino also notes that the fiction section in the NYC store contains fewer than 200 different titles.

Time capsule: the best media of millennium

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2017

Back in 2000, Amazon ran a poll asking their customers what they thought were the best books, music, and movies of the past 1000 years. The results, archived by the Internet Archive, are a time capsule not only of recently popular works (Braveheart, Millennium by the Backstreet Boys, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling) but also of who was on the internet at that time. It’s interesting that Harry Potter made the list; the first book had only been out in the US for less than a year and a half and the 2nd and 3rd books had been out for less than 6 months.

The winners in each category were The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles, and Star Wars. The author of the millennium was J.R.R. Tolkien (runner-up: Ayn Rand), The Beatles and Pink Floyd were the top musical artists, and the directors were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Here are the full top 10 lists:

Books
1. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
2. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
3. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
4. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone - J.K. Rowling
6. The Stand - Stephen King
7. Ulysses - James Joyce
8. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
9. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
10. 1984 - George Orwell

Music albums
1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
2. The Beatles (The White Album) - The Beatles
3. Millennium - Backstreet Boys
4. Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd
5. Abbey Road - The Beatles
6. Thriller - Michael Jackson
7. The Joshua Tree - U2
8. The Wall - Pink Floyd
9. Kind Of Blue - Miles Davis
10. Nevermind - Nirvana

Movies
1. Star Wars
2. Titanic
3. Citizen Kane
4. Gone With the Wind
5. The Godfather
6. Schindler’s List
7. The Matrix
8. Saving Private Ryan
9. Casablanca
10. Braveheart

My holiday shopping adventures and Amazon’s continued retail dominance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2017

French drone company Parrot recently announced significant layoffs and will shift focus away from their recreational drone business.

French company Parrot has had a rough year and missed its sales expectations. That’s why the company will lay off 290 employees who were working on drones. In total, Parrot currently has 840 employees on the drone team and more than a thousand employees in total.

While the company isn’t just selling drones, it represents a good chunk of the business. But it looks like other companies, such as DJI, are doing better in this market. Parrot expected to report $105.9 million in sales for 2016. It reported $90 million instead (€85 million vs. €100 million expected).

Even though the company is still selling quite a few drones, Parrot says that it doesn’t generate healthy margins. So here’s the new plan: focusing on commercial drones.

Well, this explains my holiday shopping difficulties with Parrot. Ollie asked for a drone for Christmas and after doing some research, I decided on the Parrot Swing. Amazon was out of stock, so I decided to buy directly from Parrot. They had stock and the site said they’d ship in plenty of time for Xmas. So I ordered one. The next day, I get a call from Parrot saying I need to “verify my order”. So, I call them back, give them some info about my order and where it’s being shipped and the very nice woman on the phone tells me that I’m all set and they’re shipping it out.

Two days go by, no shipping confirmation email in sight. I get another voicemail: you need to call us to verify your order. I call back, give them the same info and tell them, oh by the way I’ve already done this once. Profuse apologies were offered, that was a mistake, and the very nice woman on the phone tells me she’s going to tell the shipping people to send out my order “right away”. It will still arrive in time for Xmas. The next day I get an email from Parrot:

Hello! We have refunded your order No. XXXXX-XXXXX placed 12/15/2016. We are sorry that your order did not meet your expectations and hope that you will visit us again.

Obviously, I am done with them at this point but still need that drone. Amazon is still out of stock, but Walmart has them. I order one, it arrives two days later (with free shipping), and on Christmas morning, after some reflection, Ollie says it was the best present Santa has ever gotten him.

I did quite a bit of holiday shopping this year…went a bit nuts making up for some not-so-great efforts the past two years. The kids and I shopped for Toys for Tots (twice), I bought gifts for them from me and from Santa, I bought non-holiday stuff like clothes for myself,1 and I shopped virtually for the gift guide. I shopped every which way: small, locally, at big box stores, and online at 4-5 different retailers. My main takeaway from that experience? Amazon is miles and miles and miles ahead of everyone else. It is not even close.

Sure, Walmart had the drone in stock, but when I’d tried shopping with them earlier in the month, the product page threw a 404 error. I switched to Safari and was able to put the item into my cart, but then a form in the ordering flow wouldn’t work, so I had to get that item elsewhere. (When I did finally create an account while ordering the drone, Walmart thought my name was “Ashley”?!)

Target’s site was so slow that it was nearly unusable (like 30-40 seconds for a product page to start loading). But I persevered because they had an item I really wanted that no one else had in stock. I got an email two days before Xmas saying they were out of stock and couldn’t ship until Jan 4 at the earliest, but that if I still wanted the item, I would have to log in to my account to verify the new shipping date. I didn’t want the item later, so I did nothing. Guess what arrived on my doorstep last week?

My troubles with Parrot I shared above. The local toy stores are expensive (Lego sets are $5-10 more than if you buy online) and ran out of popular items 2-3 weeks before Xmas. Very few online stores outside Amazon, Walmart, etc. had clear holiday shipping policies, so relying on them more than a week or two out was risky. Zappos was great (Amazon owns them) and Patagonia was pretty good, although their shipping estimates aren’t that great and returns aren’t free.

And Amazon? The site is always fast, I have never seen a 404’d product page, the URLs for their products haven’t changed in almost 20 years,1 each product page was clearly marked with holiday shipping information, they showed the number of items in stock if they were running low, shipping was free (b/c I’m a Prime member), returns are often free, and the items arrived on time as promised. More than 20 years after the invention of online retailing, how is it that Amazon seems to be the only one that’s figured all this out? How come massive companies like Walmart and Target, whose very businesses are under immense pressure from Amazon, can’t get this stuff right despite having spent hundreds of millions on it? I’m not a financial analyst, but unless something changes drastically, Amazon is just going to continue to eat more and more of the US retail pie and at this point, with all these advantages they’ve accrued and their razor-sharp focus on low pricing, it’s difficult to see how anyone is going to compete.1

  1. After freezing my ass off wearing improper clothing the last few years (because, to be clear, I am an idiot), I made myself a promise this year that I was not going to be cold this winter. So in November and December, I spent a bunch of energy outfitting myself with the proper gear: sweaters, thermal layers, coats, mittens, boots, etc. I am both warm and happy now.

  2. I linked to the Office Space DVD on kottke.org in 1999 and the link still works. What’s the percentage of URLs from 1999 that still work? 5%? 2%? 0.1%?

  3. Just for fun, let’s take a quick stab. Stripe and Shopify are arguably better than Amazon in some ways and when the one-click patent expires this year, those payment flows will get even easier. And anyone can use them to sell anything. So the problem becomes stocking and shipping. Who’s going to build/provide the third-party fulfillment infrastructure so that shipping and returns are cheap and reliable…like Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses but for anyone to use? UPS? FedEx? The USPS? (Hahaha.) Uber? Can that company offer a Prime-like or Costco-like shipping membership? What is the rationale for everyone involved (the retailers, the payment company, the online store service, the fulfillment company) to keep prices as relentlessly low as Amazon does? There are a lot of different reasons why a collection of interchangeable third-party services could succeed against a fully integrated solution, but price does not seem like one of them…there’s just too much margin lost because of the friction between services.

    (And we haven’t even talked about AWS here. It’s profitable by itself but is also turning out to be a massive competitive advantage. The likes of Walmart and Target can’t use it even if it would be better than their home-grown infrastructure because that’s like the Trojans paying the Greeks to invade. AWS also potentially insulates Amazon against competitors like Shopify and Stripe. Imagine if Amazon got serious about integrating AWS with their payment and fulfillment systems…a low-cost, bulletproof, integrated system that almost anyone could use to sell almost anything would put an enormous amount of pressure on every other retail experience, particularly if they continue to ramp up their real-world retail offerings.)

Amazon Go is AWS for retail

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2016

Some interesting speculation from Evan Puschak on what Amazon is up to with Amazon Go. Basically, Puschak thinks Amazon Go is Amazon Web Services but for retail stores. In the same way that AWS provides hosting for sites like Netflix and Reddit, Amazon Go will provide patent-protected technology infrastructure for “self-shopping” supermarkets and retail stores. But it remains to be seen whether it’s more like their one-click patent, which was licensed by a few others (notably Apple) but everyone else was able to do without it.

Amazon Go and “Just Walk Out” shopping

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2016

Amazon Go grocery stores will let you walk in by swiping an app, grab whatever you need, and just walk right out the door again.

Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we’ll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt.

I guess that makes these self-shopping stores? Lame jokes aside, this is a pretty cool idea. Not entirely revolutionary though…Apple’s EasyPay service has allowed shoppers to self-checkout with the Apple Store app since 2011. I used the self-checkout at an Apple Store once and it felt *really* weird, like I was shoplifting. New commercial transactions are always tricky. Things like one-click ordering, contactless payments (e.g. Apple Pay), and Uber-style payments feel strange at first, but you get used to them after awhile. Something like Square’s odd “put it on Jack” system — where instead of swiping a card or scanning a QR code on an app, you need to negotiate with a person about who you are — don’t catch on. It’ll be interesting to see where something like Amazon Go falls on that spectrum.

Update: This is an IBM commercial from the 90s that showed Just Walk Out shopping.

(via @stiegjon)

An interview with Amazon’s first employee

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2016

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

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

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

Amazon is doing vehicles now

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2016

Amazon Vehicles

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

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

Amazon’s store for Kickstarter products

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2016

Amazon Kickstarter

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

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

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

Amazon’s most interesting goods

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2016

Amazon Interesting Finds

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Prime Day deals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2016

Kubrick Blu Ray

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Amazon Echo

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2016

Amazon Echo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon now offering monthly Prime subscriptions

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2016

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

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

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

On the declining ebook reading experience

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kingdom of books

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2015

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

The password sharing economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2015

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

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

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

Amazon Prime Day deals?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2015

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

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

Amazon finally fixes the Kindle’s text justification

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

Amazon drops gendered categories for toys

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2015

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

Amazon Gender Toys

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

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

Amazon’s goat grazing services

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2015

Amazon Goats

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

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

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

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

Coloring books for adults

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2015

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

Basford Coloring Book

Basford Coloring Book

Basford Coloring Book

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

Basford Coloring Book

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

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

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

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

Transparent streaming for free tomorrow!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2015

Transparent Show

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

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

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

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

The New Yorker’s new TV show

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

Transparent

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2014

Transparent

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

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

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

Amazon Primed

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2014

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

Amazon’s robotic fulfillment army

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2014

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

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

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