So who’s the best cloud storage provider – Azure, Amazon, Google, HP, Rackspace?
Enterprise storage provider Nasuni released results from its latest State of Cloud Storage Report and found that Microsoft Windows Azure (Blob) Storage outperformed last year’s leader, Amazon S3. Surprised?
Nasuni tested the speed (write/read/delete), availability and scalability of the top five public cloud storage providers and found that Microsoft Azure surpassed Amazon in every single category that was examined.
Azure was 56 percent faster in write speed than Amazon, and 39 percent faster at reading files than HP in read speed. The average response time for Azure was 25 percent faster than Amazon S3. With Amazon cloud troubles over the past year, Web developers might ultimately find they’re using more Azure and less S3 in the future.
"Microsoft's investment in its second generation cloud storage, which it made available to customers last year, has clearly paid off," said Andres Rodriguez, CEO of Nasuni. "With Amazon S3 and Microsoft Windows Azure, the cloud storage industry clearly has two strong players to choose from. Even more encouraging, however, was the marked performance improvement across the board. As CSPs continue to mature, competition among top quality providers can only benefit enterprise IT."
Amazon Web Services (AWS) wanted to give its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) users a present, and what better way to celebrate the holidays than with family – a new instance family, that is.
The cloud computing services provider from Amazon recently announced High Storage instances for EC2. This additional instance family is optimized for applications that required rapid access to large amounts of data, while also providing AWS customers with 35 EC2 Compute Units of computing capacity, 117 GiB of RAM and 48 TB of storage across 24 hard disk drives. Moreover, these instances are capable of delivering more than 2.4 GB of sequential I/O performance per second.
In other words, because High Storage instances provide such massive amounts of direct attached storage per instance, they are ideal for data-intensive applications like Hadoop workloads, log processing, data warehousing and parallel file systems for processing and analyzing large datasets in the AWS cloud.
High Storage instances follow eight other EC2 instance families, including Cluster Compute and High I/O instances, to help meet the evolving application requirements of Amazon EC2 customers. Like the others, High Storage instances were designed to enhance the performance and efficiency of even the most demanding applications. They also power the new petabyte-scale data warehousing service Amazon Redshift and can help Amazon Elastic MapReduce customers process larger quantities of data more resourcefully, who helps significantly lower costs.
AWS customers can immediately launch High Storage instances through the AWS Management Console, Amazon EC2 and Elastic MapReduce Command Line Interfaces, AWS SDKs and various other third-party libraries. However, at the moment this new instance family is only available in the US East Region; they will be made available in other AWS Regions “in the coming months.”
Consumers once again crowned Amazon the king of e-commerce, according to a recent holiday survey from analytics firm ForeSee.
In fact, ForeSee’s eighth annual Holiday E-Retail Satisfaction Index, which is based on more than 24,000 customer surveys collected from 100 top retailers during the 2012 holiday shopping season, reveals that Amazon remains the top online retailer for the eighth year in a row, with a customer satisfaction score of 88. Amazon’s high score can partially be attributed to the retailer’s variety of merchandise available on the site.
“At this point, Amazon has been dominant for so long and has such a history of focusing on the customer, its hard to imagine anyone else coming close,” said Larry Freed, ForeSee president and CEO. “Companies should emulate Amazon’s focus on the customer, which is clearly linked to superior revenues over the years.”
One of the study’s most surprising statistics shows that Apple’s online retail store received its lowest customer satisfaction rating in four years, with a score of 80. However, Apple’s rating is still better than the Index’s average customer satisfaction score of 78, which some top retailers, such as Dell, failed to reach. In fact, Dell.com’s rating fell four percent from last year and the company received a customer satisfaction score of 77. Furthermore, JCPenney.com’s rating declined 6 percent to a score of 78, which was the biggest year-over-year decline of all companies.
“This year, we’re seeing that even some of the largest companies in the country are at risk if they lose sight of customer satisfaction,” said Freed. “Satisfaction with the customer experience, when measured correctly, is the most important predictor of future success, and while Amazon clearly gets it, Apple stumbles from their usual focus on the customer experience. Dell and J.C. Penney seem to be struggling to find their way, which could make them extremely vulnerable to competitors.”
ForeSee’s report indicates that online retailers should focus on improving merchandise factors, such as appeal, variety and availability of products, in the next year in order to increase customer satisfaction scores. This is because 67 percent of satisfied customers are more likely to return to a company the next time they need to purchase a similar product. Moreover, satisfied consumers are more likely to recommend sites to their friends and stay loyal to brands.
Amazon and Facebook have joined forces to offer a new feature in Friends & Family Gifting.
Amazon has offered the ability for users to create and share item wish lists for quite some time, but if the wish list creators’ information (their Amazon info) was unknown, it was nearly impossible to find and created a rather significant purchase barrier. That obviously wasn't ideal, but by partnering with Facebook, Amazon has made the process much, much simpler. And you can bet on Amazon users connecting these two powerhouse services.
The service enables Amazon users to track birthdays and special occasions, receive personalized gift ideas and be notified of important developments through shopping email reminders. The news followed (by one day) the launch of Facebook's own Gifts service which also syncs with a friends list and will issue reminders and gift ideas - as well as manage delivery.
Brands or agencies looking for an inexpensive and social-media savvy way to deliver its message and sell products worldwide – without having to build an entire solution or license, install and operate third-party software – may not have to look further than Amazon.
The company recently unveiled Amazon Pages, which is a self-serve, brand-specific Web page at Amazon.com that functions as a custom landing page where businesses can drive traffic to. Additionally, companies can leverage these pages to appear on either its Amazon page, Facebook page or both.
The upside for businesses, concerning sales and ROI, could be huge. A business’s products and brand message is exposed to millions of Amazon viewers and buyers, at no cost to a business.
“As potential customers view your Amazon Page and read your posts, Amazon Analytics gathers a wide variety of metrics using proven Amazon ecommerce software,” Amazon wrote. “By evaluating this data, you can create posts and display product offerings strategically to engage the customers you most want, increasing the likelihood of views and purchases. To help you further improve your understanding of your customers, you can track and compare considerations and sales by segment.”
Of the metrics tracked are click-through rate, purchasing index and more. For a step-by-step guide to Amazon Pages, click here.
Amazon Web Services has announced the launch of a new Asia Pacific (Sydney) Region, the ninth in its global cloud computing platform.
“Over 10,000 customers in Australia and New Zealand are already using AWS, and this is before opening our new AWS Region in Australia today,” said Andy Jassy, Senior Vice President, Amazon Web Services. “With the ability to achieve single-digit millisecond latency to end users in Sydney, store data locally in Australia, and get to market more quickly and inexpensively by using AWS’s unmatched infrastructure technology platform, we expect the launch of AWS’s Sydney Region to further increase the amount of Australian and New Zealand customers leveraging AWS.”
At launch, the Sydney region consists of two seperate Availability Zones (datacenters in seperate distinct locations within a region which are designed to be operationally independent) and will support numerous AWS services including Elastic Compute Cloud, Map Reduce, DynamoDB, Simple DB and the Amazon Relational Database Service among others.
Among the more than 10,000 customers in Australia and New Zealand that are already using AWS, are the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (for running customer-facing Web apps), BrandScreen (which is using Elastic MapReduce to test machine learning algorithms and process data for its real-time ad trading platform), and Halfbrick Studioes - makers of FruitNinja - which is using DynamoDB and multiple Availability Zones to host millions of regular players.
Amazon may be far, far ahead in the race towards all-time e-commerce glory, but Walmart is leveraging some powerful technology to cut into its lead - namely on-site search.
Walmart's Labs project/division unveiled a new search engine for Walmart.com which uses semantic search technology, enabling the retailer to anticipate the intent of a shopper's search and deliver more relevant results. Going by the name Polaris, Walmart.com has already seen an (approximate) 10-15 percent increase in shoppers completing a purchase after searching using the new search facility.
“Search is a crown jewel for any e-commerce company to own,” said Neil Ashe, president and CEO of Walmart Global eCommerce. “Today’s announcement underscores our commitment to owning technology that is fundamental in giving our millions of customers anytime, anywhere access to the products they want at the lowest prices.”
Polaris is based on the Social Genome project, a platform that "connects people to places, events and products giving Walmart a richer level of understanding about customers and products" according to the announcement at Walmart Labs. The new Polaris search engine at Walmart uses advanced algorithms including query understanding and synonym mining to determine user intent when delivering results.
“With Polaris, we are giving users the ability to connect with the items they want but also surface items based on their interests and likely intent,” said Sri Subramaniam, vice president for @WalmartLabs and head of the Polaris initiative. “This is the start of what we imagine search to be as we continue to deliver products to accelerate Walmart’s global e-commerce efforts.”
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is going metropolitan. For the first time, AWS Direct Connect will have a presence in New York thanks to a new partnership with datacenter provider CoreSite.
CoreSite provides datacenter products and interconnection services to over 750 customers, including enterprise-level organizations, communications providers, cloud and content companies, financial firms, media and entertainment companies, government agencies and more. And now, the company boasts AWS Direct Connect availability in its New York datacenter.
This move helps CoreSite meet the increasing customer demand for access to the AWS cloud, and will help improve its ability to service digital content communities, financial organizations and managed service providers, as Direct Connect allows customers to directly access cloud services using a secure private network connection. Direct access provides increased scalability for throughput and a more consistent network performance for reduced network costs. It also helps reduce bandwidth costs while increasing capacity.
More than anything, this decision makes it easy for CoreSite customers to establish a dedicated network connection from their location to the AWS cloud without accessing the public cloud over the Internet. This leads to improved application performance and enhanced security – two of the biggest concerns for companies using the cloud.
Customers can access Direct Connect using a standard, single-mode fiber 1 Gbps or 10 Gbps Ethernet cross connection or an Any2 Internet exchange connection, which can be ordered through the MyCoreSite online customer portal.
CoreSite has been offering AWS Direct Connect from its Los Angeles datacenter since late last year.
Amazon had quite the second quarter based on its most recent financial results. Net sales for the company increased 29% to $12.83 billion in the second quarter, compared with $9.91 billion in second quarter 2011.
Numerous highlights were discussed in the recent earnings call, including:
- Kindle Fire remains the #1 bestselling product across the millions of items available on Amazon.com since launch. Over this same period, the top 10 selling items on Amazon.com were digital products – Kindle, Kindle books, and accessories.
- Worldwide Electronics and Other General Merchandise sales grew 38% to $8.16 billion. Excluding the unfavorable impact from year-over-year changes in foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter, sales grew 42%.
- AWS relaunched AWS Support with the expansion of free support for all AWS customers, a reduction in pricing on premium support plans and adding multiple new features to help customers better interact with and improve their use of AWS, including chat functionality and proactive alerts when opportunities exist to save money, improve system performance, or close security gaps.
The confidence levels of e-commerce merchants are running high according to a recent survey that was recently published by multi-channel e-commerce solution provider Vendio.
The 2012 Spring Survey reveals insights about merchant’s outlooks in regards to the future of e-commerce, as well as the satisfaction levels of merchants that sell on eBay and Amazon.
The Future of E-commerce
The study reveals that most merchants are hopeful about the future of online shopping. In fact, 84 percent of respondents claim to be optimistic about their online growth potential, while 16 percent say that brick and mortar stores are the method that they currently use to sell their goods. Additionally, only 11 percent of respondents are considering brick and mortar locations for future sales compared to 33 percent who are considering opening their own web store and 26 percent who are considering selling goods on Amazon.com.
The survey also revealed that many of the respondents have a long-term history of selling goods online. Twenty-six percent of the respondents say that they have been an e-commerce seller for more than 10 years, while 30 percent claim to have been in business for 1-4 years. Further statistics show that 20 percent of merchants are newcomers on the Web – only being in business for less than a year, while 15 percent have been in business for 4-7 years and 9 percent have been using e-commerce platforms for 7-10 years.
“We continue to see amazing growth with e-commerce as more sellers are moving online to grow their revenue stream,” says Mike Effle, Chief Executive Officer of Vendio. “Since our inception in 1999, we have seen consistent growth in entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to the Internet to sell their goods. It’s not surprising that those vendors, based on significant success, see a positive future for e-commerce.”
Selling on eBay and Amazon
The survey findings also reveal that the majority of merchants who sell products on Amazon and/or eBay are satisfied with their overall experience and sales – with 80 percent claiming to be satisfied with the overall experience of Amazon compared to 76 percent who are satisfied with eBay.
However, the survey showed that eBay and Amazon differ slightly when it comes to ease of use, with 93 percent of eBay users rating the process of listing on eBay as either “Very Easy”, “Somewhat Easy” or “Easy”, compared to 80 percent of Amazon users who gave the same ratings.
Further statistics disclose that the fees sellers pay to eBay (and PayPal, its primary payment source) and Amazon appear to be similar, with 42 percent of respondents claiming that less than 15 percent of their sales are taken by eBay/PayPal fees compared to 36 percent who pay less than 15 percent to Amazon. Furthermore, 88 percent of merchants say they pay less than 25 percent of sales to eBay/PayPal compared to 91 percent who pay less than 25 percent to Amazon.com.
“It is good to see that sellers are having positive experiences with both eBay and Amazon,” says Effle. “It is important that sellers feel the two major online marketplaces are an effective use of their time. Thus, Amazon could close the gap between the two by improving the overall ease of use for their merchants.”
The Internet was buzzing last week at the beta launch of Google’s latest service, Google Shopping. As always, the most recognizable name on the ‘Net is trying to wedge its way into another industry, but what will this mean for the e-commerce industry?
First of all, it’s important to understand exactly what Google is up to here, in case you haven’t heard. Essentially, Google is re-branding its Google Product Search services with a whole new business model. Soon, only merchants that pay to advertise with Google will be listed in the company’s product search.
In other words, Google has created a secondary retail-focused search engine that exclusively features paid advertisers.
However, as far as anyone can tell right now, this will definitely also play a role in regular search engine results, at least when users are searching for a specific product (or when a search can be construed as product-related). When Google presumes that the user has a potential intent to purchase, they’ll offer up paid (sponsored) listings next to the Web search results, so that they’re actually the first thing users see. Although the organic results will remain the same, they will not necessarily be the focal point of the SERPs any longer.
Of course, these product listings are more than just text ads, as they feature images, descriptions, links to the retailer’s sites and the current price. All of this is presented as a single, separate experience from the rest of the search results.
Either multiple product listings partitioned off in their own “sponsored” box, or a single product can appear on the right side of the page that includes a more detailed description. The former is typically designated for more general product searches, while the latter is reserved for very specific product queries (see examples below).
This practice combines product ads and Google Product Search, and helps to ensure that the paid listings don’t actually affect the organic search results – if we’re still calling Google Search organic. While this is all currently in a very experimental beta period, it's clearly an idea to which Google appears committed.
So, what does this mean for online retail, Google ads and product search?
Well, for one, it will force merchants to keep their ads up-to-date and accurate, since they are going to be charged as advertising partners just for the opportunity to list their products. This will be easy for them, as Google Shopping ads will come complete with an API that merchants can use to update their listings.
Bidding will be different, as now merchants will no longer be competing for keywords, but rather bidding how much they’d be willing to pay, if their listings appear and get clicks or generate conversions. Higher rankings will then depend on a combination of perceived relevance and the price of the bid.
Theoretically, these Google Shopping listings will help weed out redundant or irrelevant results for searchers, making them more enticing to consumers and, thus, more profitable (or worth the investment) for retailers.
Most of all, this whole scheme seems to be Google’s attempt to combat major e-commerce retailers, specifically Amazon. Whereas before Amazon was something of a one-stop shop for consumers looking to buy online, Google has now presented itself as an (arguably more efficient) alternative, allowing users to base their purchasing decisions on more product options from a wider variety of retailers.
This could drastically alter the e-commerce landscape and give smaller online retailers a much better chance at competing with the big boys.
Of course, it also runs the risk of shutting out those same smaller businesses that don't have the budget to afford buying product listings. Those companies that survive on the Web largely through the existence of free product search listings could also see some negative effects from this change.
Details are slim at the moment, and there is no official word on when Google will do away with free product listings, but the company did state in a blog post that it would like to have Google Shopping up-and-running by the fall of 2012.
Merchants have two incentives for transitioning to the new format, a 10-percent monthly credit through 2012 for ads created by August 15, or a $100 AdWords credit for existing Product Search merchants who fill out a form by the same date.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is helping businesses get more interactive by launching dynamic content support for Amazon CloudFront, giving customers a simple and cost-effective way to improve the performance, reliability and global reach of their sites and delivery of their content, including dynamic content that changes for every end-user.
AWS customers can accelerate all of the content on their websites, both dynamic and static, for a single price and no up-front fees.
The ability to deliver personalized, dynamic content through CloudFront saves businesses a lot of time and effort that used to go into improving the performance and reliability of the more dynamic aspects of their websites. Typically, this used to require custom codes that had to be written, and even then the solutions offered would be hard to configure and manage.
Now users can run all kinds of Web applications and accelerate their entire sites quickly through the AWS Management Console with no additional cost or architecture complexity. The experience even improves when dynamic content is delivered with origin servers running in EC2, as Amazon will monitor and streamline the network paths from each CloudFront edge location to the various AWS Regions, improving latency and reliability in the process.
Is your e-commerce store the next Amazon? Well, you can certainly try to be with new Euraffiliates software that gives Zen Cart and OSCommerce merchants Amazon-like affiliate widgets that they can use to display their products on affiliate websites.
Euraffiliates, the company responsible for the Next-G Affiliate software, created these widgets to help businesses skip the part of the affiliate marketing process where they’re required to get started with Web developers, graphic designers, copy writers, email marketers and all of the other individuals involved in the creation of an affiliate marketing campaign. Now, Zen Cart and OSCommerce store owners with knowledge of FTP uploads and copy pasting can be selling through affiliates in just hours, as the widgets will automate the early steps.
Users need only upload one zipped source file and some additional setups files and complete the setup wizard. After they’re situated, they’ll be able to upload a logo for use by affiliate marketers, change the “look-and-feel” of their marketing content and even customize the affiliate page content with online forms (the system will provide default content), including a customizable affiliate terms page.
Moreover, merchants can easily select desired products or categories and preview them, and then customize them, save the settings and copy a single line to code to publish these updated product banners to their websites. This new feature lets users easily generate customized product ads similar to those used by Amazon. All changes will be rendered automatically on the affiliate websites, as well.
OSCommerce and Zen Cart merchants can easily integrate the widgets into their stores by simply copying the integration code from the system and pasting it into the specified files in their websites.
When asked if the emergence of new, lower-cost tablets was affecting the success of the iPad this week, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook said he wasn't seeing it.
"I looked at the data, particularly in the U.S., on a weekly basis after Amazon launched the Kindle Fire, and I wouldn't — in my view there wasn't an obvious effect on the numbers plus or minus," Cook said.
But one clear minus was Apple's declining share of the growing tablet market. Despite gang-buster sales last quarter, the iPad has lost more than 10 percentage points of market share to rival Android tablets since the fourth quarter of 2010, according to a new report from research firm Strategy Analytics.
The iPad dropped to 57.6% of the tablets sold during the most recent fourth quarter, from 68.2% a year earlier, while Android rose to 39.1% from 29.0% a year ago, the report said. While Apple shipped 15.4 million iPads during the quarter, Android makers shipped 10.5 million tablets, more than tripling the 3.1 million they shipped a year earlier.
The Android surge was led primarily by tablets from Amazon and Samsung, according to Strategy Analytics' Neil Mawston.
"Android is so far proving relatively popular with tablet manufacturers despite nagging concerns about fragmentation of Android’s operating system, user-interface and app store ecosystem,” Mawston wrote in a release attached to the report.
The report also noted that global tablet shipments rose to 66.9 million units in 2011, nearly quadrupling the 18.6 million shipped in 2010. Devices "shipped" are those that manufacturers sell to retailers, and do not always represent final consumer sales numbers, especially when tablet makers overestimate the demand for their products. But Mawston said the tablet shipment numbers in this case were a fair representation of the number consumers bought.
– David Sarno
Image: Tim Perkins checks out the $199 tablet from Amazon.com at a Best Buy store in L.A. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
Microsoft's Hotmail service now has a Kindle Fire app.
OK, this may not be as exciting as Google releasing a Gmail app for Apple's iPhone, and there is still no native Gmail app for the Fire. But the Hotmail app for the Fire should be a worthwhile release for many owners of Amazon's popular 7-inch tablet due to the addition of Exchange Active Sync.
Unlike Amazon's included email app on the FIre, which merely downloads your messages via POP3, Microsoft's Hotmail app will synch emails, contacts, folders and subfolders, said David Law, Microsoft's director of Hotmail product management, in a blog post.
While the free Hotmail app for the Fire is technically an Android app, the version for Amazon's tablet is different from the standard Hotmail Android app used by more than 3 million people, Law said.
The differences between the Fire Hotmail app and the standard Android Hotmail app have to do with the changes Amazon made to Android to create the Fire-specific operating system it runs on its tablet, which as we've noted before is unlike any other version of Android out there.
"Because the Kindle Fire uses a different implementation of Android, we needed to make some updates to our previous Hotmail app for Android to ensure it worked well," Law said. "Now that we've finished the work and the app is ready, we're excited to give customers a great Hotmail experience on the Kindle Fire."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of the Hotmail app listing in Amazon's Appstore for Android. Credit: Microsoft / Amazon
Remember when seeing an iPad on a bus, an airplane or the subway was a startling new experience? Now you might be startled not to see one.
Over the holidays, so many people bought tablets for each other (and, presumably, themselves), that U.S. tablet ownership nearly doubled among adults, to 19% in January from 10% a month earlier. The rate is growing quickly: In May 2010, shortly after the debut of the iPad, only about 3% of consumers over age 16 owned tablets, according to survey information from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
The survey found a similar jump in e-reader ownership, as prices dropped below $100 for electronic book readers from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nearly 20% of U.S. adults now own an e-reader, up from 10% in November.
Tablet and e-reader adoption continues to grow quickly just as sales of traditional personal computers slow and even decline. In the U.S., PC sales last year had their worst year since 2001, dropping nearly 5% compared with 2010, according to research firm IDC. Analysts and PC industry executives regularly cite the increasing popularity of tablets when talking about the slowing growth of the PC businesses.
According to the survey, tablet adoption is now the highest among wealthier and more educated buyers. About 36% of those making more than $75,000 a year own a tablet computer, compared with about 16% of those making $30,000 to $50,000, although ownership rates in both groups appear to be growing quickly. The discrepancy is also substantial between college graduates, 31% of whom own tablets, and high school grads, at 15%.
– David Sarno
Photo: Boxes of Kindle e-readers sit at an Amazon.com distribution center. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg.
NEWS ANALYSIS: Alongside Apple stating that iBooks 2 and textbooks on the iPad would reinvent the textbook as we know it, the iPad-maker announced Thursday that it would also attempt to reinvent book-making by way of an app called iBooks Author.
The Apple-developed app, available as a free download from the Mac App Store, (ideally) makes it easy to make books for the iPad. But together, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author are moves to capture the future of education and self-publishing, and to continue to build on the success Apple had under the late Steve Jobs.
If you've ever used Apple's Keynote or Pages (or Microsoft's PowerPoint or Word) apps, then you should be able to hit the ground running in iBooks Author. There are templates for different types of book layouts, and adding the interactive 3-D models, photos, videos and diagrams that Apple demoed iBooks 2 textbooks on Thursday is as easy as clicking and dragging a built-in widget — provided you've already produced the video, photos, diagrams and models you want to use.
Want to see what your book looks like before you publish it to iBooks? Just connect your Mac to an iPad by way of a USB cable and you can preview the book on the tablet.
The aim of the iBooks Author app is to make it easy to get these impressive multimedia elements, as well as questionnaires and other educational materials, into a page of text and published as a book on the iPad as easy as possible — whether you're a self-publisher looking to write your first book, a teacher whipping up something quick for a special class, or a publishing powerhouse like the textbook trifecta of McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Before his death, Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he believed Apple could disrupt the $8-billion-a-year textbook industry. Jobs said in Isaacson's book, titled simply "Steve Jobs," that the iPad was the tool to make transformation in the textbook business a reality.
According to the book, Jobs' idea "was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple."
Jobs told Isaacson "the process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt … but if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don't have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money."
In announcing the iBooks 2 and iBooks Author products, Apple is beginning to bring a piece of Jobs' long-term vision to fruition. The company also noted Thursday that there are currently about 1.5 million iPads being used in schools and more than 20,000 education apps sitting in its iOS App Store.
But make no mistake, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author aren't just about textbooks. The two new apps are working together to entice students, teachers, educational institutions to embrace and buy the iPad in bigger numbers than they already have.
On Thursday, in announcing the new products, Apple made no mention of new discounts on iPads for students or schools — though Apple has offered such discounts in the past on Macs and even created special versions of the iMac for schools. Apple even built the now-defunct eMac line specifically to sell to schools.
Apple wants us to ditch the paperback and hardcover textbooks in favor of an iPad and digital downloads, that much is obvious. But the company also wants the iPad and Macs to become to go-to devices for educational institutions and publishing houses.
Although Apple's iTunes is the world's most popular online music storefront, Amazon is the world's largest seller of e-books. By adding a level of interactivity to books that Amazon and others simply can't match, and by making it easier to publish a book and sell it in the iBooks app directly from iBooks Author, Apple has made a move to challenge Amazon and its Kindle e-reader and Kindle Touch tablet as the preferred platform for self-publishers and digital textbooks.
In a statement announcing iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, Apple said as much (without naming Amazon and other e-book rivals such as Google and Barnes & Noble).
"iBooks Author is also available today as a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple's iBookstore," Apple said.
The apps are also a challenge to Adobe, a company Apple has been known to partner with and feud with from time to time. Adobe's Creative Suite, Digital Publishing Suite and Touch Apps, available on both Windows PCs and Macs, are some of the most popular tools used by publishing houses and self-publishers looking to create a book, whether an e-book or a book before it heads to print.
Though capable of producing many different types of content for a broader range of devices, Adobe's software can cost thousands of dollars, while Apple's iBooks Author app is free.
Apple on Thursday also released an iTunes U app, which allows teachers from kindergarten to the university level to stream video of their lectures and post class notes, handouts, reading lists, etc., all within the app.
Previously, iTunes U was a podcasting service for college professors who wanted to put up video or audio of their lectures. Now it is one more reason for a teacher to consider an iPad and a Mac as tools to reach students at any grade level. And like iBooks Author, the app is free.
In my opinion, Apple is one of the best companies out there at providing lower-cost products that pull consumers into an ecosystem of apps and gadgets. It's one of the reason the company has so many cult-like followers.
For many Apple fans, their first purchase was an iPod or iPhone. With those purchases comes buying apps, music, movies and TV shows from iTunes. And for many, later comes a MacBook or an iMac computer. This strategy is repeating itself with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author.
First, get students and teachers to use more iPads in school by offering affordable and engaging digital textbooks. With iBook textbooks capped at a price of $14.99, I have to wonder whether or not textbooks will become shorter and more narrow, and thus students and teachers we'll have to buy more of them. Second, make it easy for anybody to produce their own iBooks (textbooks or otherwise) and then sell those books in the iBooks app, luring in aspiring authors. When those students, teachers and authors go to download music or a movie, set up a cloud storage service or buy a laptop, a phone, a new tablet — maybe someday a TV — what brand will be at the top of minds? Apple.
iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U, together are a move to fend off Google, Amazon, Adobe and other competitors in determining the future of education, publishing and book reading. Together, the launch of these apps is an attempt to not only maintain but also expand Apple's current success into the company's post-Jobs future.
Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook and an iPad. Credit: Apple
Just one day after Research In Motion shares received a boost off news that Samsung Electronics might be interested in buying the struggling smartphone and tablet maker, Samsung came out on Wednesday and said the rumored deal isn't happening.
Samsung, the second-largest cellphone producer on the planet behind Nokia, said it is not considering taking over RIM and that it has "never" been interested in buying the BlackBerry maker, according to a Bloomberg report.
James Chung, a Samsung spokesman, told the news outlet that the Korean company and RIM, based in Canada, haven't had any contact regarding a purchase deal.
Chung also told Bloomberg that Samsung isn't interested in the rumored software licensing deals that RIM has been reportedly exploring as well.
On Tuesday, stock in RIM rose $1.30, or 8.04%, to $17.47 per share after the tech news site BGR ran a story, citing unnamed sources, stating that Samsung was the "front runner" to purchase RIM.
Of course, Samsung hasn't been the only company that has been rumored to be interested in buying RIM. Among the other potential suitors with speculated interest in RIM are Nokia, Microsoft and Amazon. RIM shares jumped 10% in December on news of possible takeover interest from Microsoft and Amazon.
This also isn't the first time that Samsung has come out and denied rumors of its interest in a smartphone property. Last September, Samsung declared its lack of interest in buying the WebOS operating system from Hewlett-Packard.
After months of trying to figure out what to do with WebOS, HP eventually decided to retain ownership, open-source the software and then move forward on developing new tablets (but no new smartphones) running the operating system.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: BlackBerry Messenger on a BlackBerry smartphone from Research In Motion. Samsung announced Wednesday that will not purchase BlackBerry maker RIM. Credit: Oliver Lang / Associated Press
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is again at the center of buyout rumors and this time the speculated buyer is consumer electronics giant Samsung.
Among other possible suitors believed to be interested in RIM are Nokia, Microsoft and Amazon, which sent shares in the smartphone and tablet maker up as much as 10% in December when the rumor mill was churning.
On Tuesday, after the website BGR published a story that stated Samsung was the "front runner" to purchase RIM, stock in the Canadian company rose $1.30, or 8.04%, to $17.47 per share.
"Research In Motion is currently weighing every single option it can think of in an effort to reverse a negative trend that is approaching a boiling point for investors," BGR said. "Reports that RIM is currently in talks to license its software to other vendors are accurate according to our trusted sources, though we have been told that RIM is most likely leaning toward an outright sale of one or more divisions, or even the whole company."
RIM officials were unavailable to comment on the BGR report on Tuesday.
The negative trend mentioned by BGR is a well-documented slide at RIM that didn't relent in 2011. In December, RIM recorded a $485-million loss on unsold PlayBook inventory after the tablet failed to live up to sales expectations since its launch in April. Every model of the PlayBook was also cut to $299 in a move to entice consumers.
With sales of the PlayBook slow, no wireless carriers have stepped up to offer a 3G or 4G version of the BlackBerry tablet as RIM had originally planned.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Research In Motion's senior manager of brand marketing, Jeff Gadway, discusses new BlackBerry technology in a presentation at the company's "BeBold" event at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 10. Credit: Eric Reed / AP Images for BlackBerry
Zappos.com, the popular online shoe site, was the victim of a cyber attack by a hacker who gained access to part of the company's internal network through one of its servers, Chief Executive Tony Hsieh said in an email to employees Sunday.
Hsieh said the Henderson, Nev., company was cooperating with law enforcement to undergo "an exhaustive investigation" and that the database that stores customers' credit card and other payment data was not affected or accessed.
"We've spent over 12 years building our reputation, brand, and trust with our customers. It's painful to see us take so many steps back due to a single incident," Hsieh said in a separate email to customers. "Over the next day or so, we will be training everyone on the specifics of how to best help our customers through their password change process now that their passwords have been reset and expired. We need all hands on deck to help get through this."
The company said it would notify the more than 24 million customer accounts in its database about the incident and provide instructions on how to choose a new password; the company has already reset and expired existing passwords.
In the email to shoppers, Zappos said customers' personal information — including their name, email address, billing and shipping addresses, phone number, the last four digits of their credit card number and/or the cryptographically scrambled password on their account — may have been compromised.
"In order to service as many customer inquiries as possible, we will be asking all employees at our headquarters, regardless of department, to help with assisting customers," Hsieh said. "We have made the hard decision to temporarily turn off our phones and direct customers to contact us by email because our phone systems simply aren't capable of handling so much volume."
The company is directing customer concerns and questions to an internal Web page.
Zappos, which sells shoes and has since expanded to other retail categories, was bought by Amazon.com in 2009. The company has become known for its customer service and for its quirky company culture led by Hsieh — including head-shaving events, impromptu parades around the cubicles and employee birthday pranks.
– Andrea Chang
Top photo: Zappos' company headquarters in 2010. Credit: Isaac Brekken / For The Times
Lower photo: Zappos Chief Executive Tony Hsieh. Credit: Isaac Brekken / For The Times
Aspiring self-published authors, it may just be your time to shine.
Earlier today, Amazon released a statement saying that its lending library program for self-published authors, KDP Select, is a big moneymaker, at least for the best selling authors in the program.
KDP Select works by encouraging authors and publishers to put their work in the Kindle Store exclusively for 90 days, and for five of those 90 days their work will be able to be borrowed for free. Participating in this program means the author is eligible to take part in a $6 million annual royalty fund, so they'll be paid dividents based on each author's share of total borrows during the month. However, authors only get money if one of their books is borrowed.
According to the statement, using the program helped to boost sales, as well, and the top 10 authors in the program saw a significant increase in royalties (about 30 percent) received from sales of their books during the period; when factoring in their earnings from the loan fund, the top 10 earned a whopping 449 percent more on average in December than they did in November.
Amazon says that there are currently over 75,000 books in the Kindle Lending Library, and that customers borrowed books at least 295,000 times in December. Authors earned $1.70 (out of $500,000 allotted for the month) for each borrow, and the top 10 averaged $7000 for the month.
Top 10 author Carolyn McCray did pretty well, to say the least, making $8250 from the lending program alone.
"To say the trade-off of exclusivity on Amazon for the Kindle Owners' Lending Library has been a profitable one would be a gross understandment," she says.
So, it looks like all you have to do is crack the top 10 and you're set!
The Kindle Fire tablet has, since its launch, sold more units than any other single item on Amazon.com.
But just how many tablets sold would that be exactly? Amazon isn't saying. As is the company's typical stance with its Kindle products, the Seattle company isn't offering up specific sales numbers.
Instead, on Thursday, the world's largest online retailer issued a statement saying that "2011 was the best holiday ever for the Kindle family as customers purchased millions of Kindle Fires and millions of Kindle e-readers."
As noted by our sister-blog Jacket Copy, so far this month, the Kindle Fire tablet and the Kindle and Kindle Touch eReaders, have sat in the top three spots for most sold items on Amazon.com, with the Fire ranking first, the Kindle Touch in second and the standard Kindle in third.
The retail giant also said that the Kindle Fire is the item most often found on Amazon.com wish lists too.
Without exact sales numbers, it's tough to judge just how well the $199 Kindle Fire is selling or whether or not it will reach analyst estimates of 5 million tablets sold before the end of the year.
Despite Amazon's continued stance on not disclosing how many Kindle Fire tablets it's selling, many analysts still project that the device will become the second-best selling tablet behind Apple's iPad.
Amazon also said that this Christmas Day was the "biggest day ever for Kindle book downloads" and that the No. 1 and No. 4 best-selling Kindle eBooks released in 2011 "were both published independently by their authors using Kindle Direct Publishing," Amazon's digital publishing platform.
"We are grateful to our customers worldwide for making this the best holiday ever for Kindle," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, in the statement. "And in a huge milestone for independent publishing, we'd also like to congratulate Darcie Chan, the author of 'The Mill River Recluse,' and Chris Culver, the author of 'The Abbey,' for writing two of the best-selling Kindle books of the year."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Haven't gotten that holiday shopping wrapped up just yet? Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, has plenty of stuff to sell and on Thursday launched a Best of Digital store full of items it recommends.
As the name would suggest, the items for sale in Amazon's Best of Digital store aren't physical goods. The store, which is a section of Amazon's website, has for sale mp3 music files, not CDs; downloadable movies, not DVDs or Blu-ray discs. Apps, games, magazines, e-books (for Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course) and software for home PCs are on the list as well.
Launching such a store after the start of Hanukkah and so close to Christmas might seem like odd timing, but "historically, Christmas Day is the largest day of digital sales on Amazon.com, followed by Dec. 26," Amazon said in a statement.
"Last year, from Christmas Eve through Dec. 30, Amazon customers purchased over three times more digital content, including Kindle books, magazines, movies, TV shows music, and digital games as compared to the weekly average for the year," the company said.
Not at all a coincidence, all the digital items (except for the PC software) for sale in the Best of Digital store can be read, watched, listened to, played and used on Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet.
"With the introduction of Kindle Fire this season, millions more customers will be shopping for new digital content," Craig Pape, Amazon's director of music, said in the statement. "This year we're making it easier and more convenient than ever to get all the content they want."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Amazon's Best of Digital store. Credit: Amazon.com
For the Kindle Fire, Amazon's first tablet and a hot-selling item, the update promises to improve the responsiveness of touch navigation and the speed of actions on the device, such as loading webpages in the Fire's Web browser.
However, the biggest new feature might be the ability for users to edit what shows up in their "carousel" of recent apps and content displayed on the Fire's home screen.
Before the update, a Fire user couldn't remove any items — books they've read, games and music played, movies watched or websites visited — in their carousel.
The ability to remove items from the carousel was a highly requested feature and in this case, Amazon was pretty quick to deliver — the Fire was released Nov. 14.
The iOS Kindle app updates the user interface for periodicals and text books, with access to the same selection of more than 400 magazines and newspapers that are offered on the Fire, Amazon said in a statement.
For the first time, Amazon is also offering "print replica textbooks" to iOS Kindle app users, which allow for full-color pages and the ability to zoom in and out or take notes as needed, the company said.
And the update also now makes the Kindle iOS app a PDF reader as well, Amazon said, which will allow users to view their own documents — a feature offered by iBooks for some time now.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
The BlackBerry maker's stock rose 10% in trading on Wednesday after rumors began to circulate that the Canadian company had been in various talks to sell itself to Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Nokia Corp.
Nothing has come of those talks, but the buzz about a possible sale lifted the battered stock above dismal lows it had hit last week when it reported that quarterly profit had sunk 70% since a year earlier. The company has faced stiffening competition from rival smartphone powers such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc., and its BlackBerry Playbook tablet joined the ranks of also-rans that failed to chip away at the dominance of Apple's iPad.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Microsoft and its ally Nokia considered making a joint bid to buy RIM, but that the status of those talks remained a secret. A second report from Reuters described similarly indefinite talks the company had with Amazon, which it said hired an investment bank to research the viability of a deal during the summer.
The stock rose $1.26, or 10.06%, to $13.78 during regular trading, but is still down nearly 77% this year.
– David Sarno
Photo: A customer holds BlackBerry smartphones at a shopping mall in Jakarta, Indonesia, this month. Credit: Mast Irham / EPA
Amazon is rolling out another holiday promotion, offering shoppers free one-day shipping on thousands of items starting Saturday.
The latest offer follows the Internet retailer's controversial holiday promotion last week, when it gave shoppers up to $15 for using its price check app in a bricks-and-mortar store and then buying that item from Amazon.
That offer led several retail groups and a senator to lash out at the e-commerce giant, accusing it of using physical stores as showrooms.
The shipping promotion — which includes cameras, diamond earrings, video games and laptops – ends Wednesday. Amazon will apply the shipping discount at checkout after customers add a qualifying product to their shopping carts and select One-Day Shipping.
Also this week, Amazon announced it was extending the order deadline for free "Super Saver Shipping," guaranteeing that orders placed by Dec. 19 will arrive in time for Christmas. After that, shoppers will have to select faster delivery options for orders to arrive by the holiday.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: An Amazon fulfillment center in Phoenix during last year's holiday season. Credit: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press
A day after Amazon said it would provide an over-the-air software update to its tablet one month after its release, customers say they're still miffed and note that the update won't fix the device's hardware issues, which include its small screen, lack of external volume controls and a poorly placed on/off button.
And interestingly, some buyers are viewing the need for a software update as an admission from Amazon that its first tablet is far from perfect.
Dan Karagozian of Glendale said he bought five Kindle Fires on Friday as Christmas presents after debating between Amazon's device and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet.
Now he's having second thoughts. The 53-year-old said he was enticed by the device's cloud feature, price and content offerings, but was upset that no one from Amazon mentioned to him that a software update was needed when he called customer service before placing his order. He called the update a "red flag."
"Yes? No? Who knows," he said about whether he made the right buy. "I think I made a good choice, but again, when the update stuff starts coming out, it makes you wonder."
Another Kindle Fire buyer wrote an email to me saying she was having a bit of buyer's remorse.
"I bought mine as soon as Amazon offered it, and received it on November 16, which means I have two days remaining to decide whether or not to keep it," the Huntington Beach resident said.
Ralph Kaye, a reader from Torrance, said he and his wife were worried about buying a Kindle Fire because of rumors that Amazon may release a 2.0 version as soon as next spring to make up for the flaws in its first-generation model.
"I would not feel very good about buying a machine which will be an older model in a couple of months," said Kaye, 69.
But despite concerns from shoppers and some analysts, other tech industry watchers are more bullish. In a note to investors Tuesday, Goldman Sachs analyst Heather Bellini said she expected the Kindle Fire to make Amazon an even more prominent company and predicted Kindle Fire sales would reach 6 million units in its first quarter of release.
"In our view, the company's evolutionary cycle will continue at a frenzied pace, and it is only over the next few years that we will truly be able to see the value that can be derived," she said. "Add to this the introduction of the Kindle Fire (U.S. only) in November of this year, where we expect 50% conversion rates, and that will only further engrain Amazon into its customers' minds."
Despite the Kindle Fire's flaws, Bellini noted that shoppers have rapidly adopted Amazon's first tablet — a feat that "does not surprise us."
"While the Kindle Fire certainly doesn’t have the breadth of functionality of the iPad (no camera or microphone, shorter battery life and less memory), it does a few things very well, which just happen to be the few actions that users utilize the tablet form factor most often for, in our view," she said.
How do you like your Kindle Fire? Are the negative reviews making you reconsider a Nook Tablet or causing you to shell out for Apple's iPad? Check out some Times reviews of various tablets below.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A Kindle Fire at a Best Buy store in Los Angeles in November. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
Good news for last-minute shoppers: Amazon.com has extended the order deadline for free "Super Saver Shipping," guaranteeing that orders placed by Dec. 19 will arrive in time for Christmas. After that, shoppers will have to select faster delivery options for orders to arrive by the holiday.
For delivery by Christmas, Amazon said the following ordering deadlines apply:
Dec. 19: Free Super Saver Shipping
Dec. 19: Standard shipping
Dec. 21: Two-Day shipping (order as late as 8 p.m. PST; varies by item; free with Amazon Prime)
Dec. 22: One-Day shipping (order as late as 4:30 p.m. PST; varies by item; $3.99 per item with Amazon Prime)
Dec. 23: Last-minute Christmas delivery (for Amazon Prime members only; while available; select cities; varies by item; $9.99 per item)
Dec. 24: Local express delivery (while available; select cities; varies by item; $3.99 per item with Amazon Prime)
Super Saver Shipping is available for orders of $25 or more. Amazon Prime is a membership program that gives members free two-day shipping if they pay an annual membership fee of $79.
Like all retailers, Amazon has stepped up its game during the most important time of the year for the industry. Last week, the world's biggest e-commerce site announced that it was holding a one-day promotion that would give shoppers 5% off, up to $5 per item, just for using its Price Check app in a bricks-and-mortar store and buying that product on Amazon afterward. Amazon shoppers could save up to $15 by checking the prices and buying three different items.
That offer sparked outrage from retail groups, who accused Amazon of using physical stores as showrooms and further hurting the competition because Amazon is not required to collect sales taxes in most states.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: Amazon packages are delivered in Boston. The website extended its free shipping holiday deadline to Dec. 19. Credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters
A spokeswoman for the Seattle e-commerce giant said the update would be available in less than two weeks and would improve performance and touch navigation. It will also give customers the option to edit what items display on their carousels — a landing page that shows what users have been up to on their tablets. Currently, all recent activity — including books read, games played, television shows watched and websites visited — are shown on a user's carousel.
"Kindle Fire is the most successful product we've ever launched –- we've already sold millions of units and we're building more to meet the strong demand," Amazon spokeswoman Kinley Pearsall said Monday. "As with all of our products, we continue to make them better for customers with regular software updates."
The Amazon Kindle Fire was released last month amid speculation that it would become an "iPad killer." But early reviews for the 7-inch tablet have been mixed, with users complaining about the small screen size, lack of external volume controls, finicky touch screen and lack of privacy. Some tech analysts have said Amazon's tablet effort was not good enough and expect the company to release a better version within months.
Nonetheless, research firms have estimated that the Kindle Fire will become the No. 2 bestselling tablet globally behind Apple's iPad in the fourth quarter, thanks to its $199 price and Amazon's trusted brand name.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Emile Wamsteker / Bloomberg
Amazon.com on Monday announced its best-selling books of the year, and — no surprise — Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple visionary Steve Jobs landed in the No. 1 spot.
The online retail giant's list combined its sales of print and Kindle editions and took into account only paid copies. Books first published before 2011 were excluded.
Amazon noted that two books — "The Mill River Recluse" by Darcie Chan (#4) and "The Abbey" by Chris Culver (#9) — were published by Kindle Direct Publishing and made the top 10 based solely on Kindle sales.
"Steve Jobs" topped the list even though it was published just two months ago. Sales of the book "have been phenomenal in both formats," said Chris Schluep, senior editor of books at Amazon, said that even though "Steve Jobs" was published just two months ago, sales "have been phenomenal in both formats."
Here's the complete list:
1. "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson
2. "Bossypants" by Tina Fey
3. "A Stolen Life" by Jaycee Dugard
4. "The Mill River Recluse" by Darcie Chan
5. "In the Garden of the Beasts" by Erik Larson
6. "A Dance with Dragons" by George R.R. Martin
7. "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain
8. "The Litigators" by John Grisham
9. "The Abbey" by Chris Culver
10. "Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle)" by Christopher Paolini
– Andrea Chang
Photo: Copies of Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs" at a Costco in Mountain View, Calif. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press
Amazon's Kindle Fire is reportedly due for its first software update, partly in response to complaints about the performance of the hot-selling new tablet.
The retail giant, which has in the Fire a sales hit, is looking to improve the Web-browsing speed of its first tablet, among other things, according to a report from the New York Times.
"In less than two weeks, we’re rolling out an over-the-air update to Kindle Fire," Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said in the report.
As well as the speed of its Silk Browser, the software update should improve the responsiveness of the Fire's multitouch navigation and users will also be able to edit the Carousel of recent items they've used on the device, the New York Times said.
The Fire's last software update came about a month ago and since the Fire first shipped about a month ago, a significant number of consumers have complained to Amazon about the performance of their devices, and some have returned the new gadget because they were so unhappy with it, the report said.
Amazon doesn't disclose its sales or return numbers for the Fire, or any other Kindle devices, but reviews (myself included) did have a number of performance complaints with the 7-inch tablet. However, research groups have estimated that already, the Kindle Fire is the second-best selling tablet in the U.S.
The report also echoes the rumors that Amazon is working on a new Kindle Fire, possibly with a larger screen size, that could launch in the spring.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: An Amazon.com employee holds the Kindle Fire tablet at the device's unveiling in New York in September. Credit: Emile Wamsteker / Bloomberg
The U.S. Justice Department's antitrust arm said it was looking into potentially unfair pricing practices by electronic booksellers, joining European regulators and state attorneys general in a widening probe of large U.S. and international e-book publishers.
At a Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday, Sharis Pozen, the acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's antitrust division, said the agency was "investigating the electronic book industry" but gave fewdetails.
A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed that the probe involved the possibility of "anticompetitive practices involving e-book sales."
The acknowledgment comes a day after European regulators said they were investigating five of the largest international publishers: France's Hachette Livre, News Corp.-owned Harper Collins, CBS' Simon & Schuster, Britain-based Pearson Group's Penguin and the German-owned Macmillan — as well as Apple Inc.. Investigators said they were trying to determine whether the companies had "engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would have the object or the effect of restricting competition."
Attorneys general in Connecticut and, reportedly, Texas, have also begun inquiries into the way electronic booksellers price their wares, and whether companies such as Apple and Amazon have set up pricing practices that are ultimately harmful to consumers.
When Amazon.com and its Kindle were the sole major player in the electronic book market, the company set the price of e-books at $9.99. But publishers found that the price was artifically low and sought a way to circumvent Amazon's pricing control.
When Apple's iPad came out last year, the company had deals in place with five major publishers to use a new pricing model, in which the publishing companies were able to set the prices and the retailers (such as Amazon and Apple) took a fixed cut of the retail cost, about 30%.
Soon after, e-book prices on Amazon and elsewhere began to rise, and now many bestselling books retail for $14, $15, $16 or more.
– David Sarno
Photo: Amazon.com's Kindle Fire, right, is displayed with an Apple iPhone 4 at a Best Buy store in New York. Credit: Scott Eells / Bloomberg
A day after Amazon announced that it would give shoppers up to $15 for using its Price Check app in a bricks-and-mortar store and buying that item from Amazon afterward, prominent retail groups are lashing out at the e-commerce giant.
The Retail Industry Leaders Assn. said the app unfairly uses bricks-and-mortar stores as "showrooms to then purchase merchandise online from inside the store."
"Central to this tactic is Amazon's continued practice of using a pre-Internet loophole to avoid state sales tax collection, a move that gives them an unfair competitive advantage over Main Street retailers," the group said.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Alliance for Main Street Fairness, echoed that sentiment, saying "no retailer can compete with the special treatment" Amazon has by not collecting sales taxes.
"This app is simply another ploy by Amazon to exploit the loophole that allows them to evade collecting state sales taxes," he said.
In September, after several weeks of bickering with California lawmakers and traditional retailers, Amazon agreed to begin collecting sales taxes in the state in September 2012. A new law that went into effect July 1 required online retailers to begin collecting the tax immediately, but Amazon refused to follow through, leading to the two sides cutting the September deal.
On Wednesday Katherine Lugar, executive vice president of public affairs for the retail leaders group, said Amazon's Price Check app promotion was worsening an already unfair advantage during the all-important holiday shopping season.
"Amazon's aggressive promotion of its Price Check App shows the lengths they are willing to go to exploit this tax loophole, and is a stark reminder of why Congress needs to act to protect retailers on Main Street," Lugar said.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A shopper uses his smartphone to check prices at a Toys R Us in New York in November. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press
Price-check apps are already a headache for bricks-and-mortar retailers, who lose out when in-store shoppers use their smartphones to scan the bar code of a product and find that it's cheaper elsewhere.
Now Amazon.com, arguably physical stores' No. 1 rival, is making it even more worthwhile to price check.
The world's biggest online retailer said that on Saturday, it will give customers an additional 5% discount (up to $5) on up to three qualifying products if they simply check the price of those items while shopping in physical retail stores. Eligible categories include electronics, toys, music, sporting goods and DVDs.
"The ability to check prices on your mobile phone when you're in a physical retail store is changing the way people shop," said Sam Hall, director of Amazon Mobile, in a statement. "Price transparency means that you can save money on the products you want and that's a great thing for customers."
The Price Check by Amazon app is available for iPhone and Android and can be downloaded for free from the Amazon Appstore, Android Market and App Store for the iPhone. Users can price check four ways: scanning a bar code, snapping a photo, saying a product name or typing in a search query.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A shopper uses a smartphone to compare prices at a Toys R Us in New York in November. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press
European Union antitrust regulators are investigating Apple Inc. and the e-book business model it uses to sell digital titles from five of the largest international book publishers.
Officials from the European Commission said Tuesday they were looking into the fairness of e-book sales agreements made by French publisher Hachette Livre, News Corp.-owned Harper Collins, CBS' Simon & Schuster, Britain-based Pearson Group's Penguin and the German-owned Macmillan.
In 2010 these companies switched en masse to a new pricing system for e-books, called the "agency model," in which publishers wrested away from retailers the ability to set prices. Before the agency model, e-book sellers such as Amazon.com Inc. sold e-books at any price they liked, much like bricks-and-mortar bookstores. (Once bookstores have purchased books from wholesalers, they can discount or mark up the prices at will.)
In the same way, before the agency model Amazon — then the only major player in e-books sales — was free to set its own prices. The company used that freedom to price its Kindle books at $9.99, a price so low that the company was generally thought to be losing money on most Kindle book sales — in the name of attracting a large group of Kindle book buyers who would be drawn to the low and consistent pricing.
But publishers did not want Amazon's cut-rate e-book sales to give the Seattle company total control of the e-book market, especially by getting customers used to buying e-books for less than the industry believed they were worth. So, at around the time when Apple's iPad debuted, the five publishers agreed to a model in which they alone could decide book prices, and booksellers such as Apple and Amazon would receive a fixed commission on each sale.
Not long after, e-book prices began to rise. At Amazon, many bestselling Kindle e-books are now priced above $9.99. For instance, only five of Amazon's 20 "best" Kindle books of the year are below $10.
That price increase may in part be what antitrust regulators are looking into. In March, EU officials raided a number of publishers, reportedly seizing contracts and executives' smartphones and computers.
"The Commission will in particular investigate whether these publishing groups and Apple have engaged in illegal agreements or practices that would have the object or the effect of restricting competition," the group's statement on Tuesday said.
– David Sarno
Photo: Boxes of Kindle e-readers sit ready for dispatch in a distribution center in Ridgmont, Britain. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg
Google's Android Market has passed 10 billion app downloads, a major milestone for the world's most widely used mobile operating system.
"One billion is a pretty big number by any measurement. However, when it’s describing the speed at which something is growing, it’s simply amazing," said Eric Chu, director of the Android Developer Ecosystem, in a company blog post. "This past weekend, thanks to Android users around the world, Android Market exceeded 10 billion app downloads — with a growth rate of 1 billion app downloads per month."
The massive number is even more impressive when considering the fragmentation found on Android, with companies such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Yahoo hosting Android app stores of their own, in addition to independent app stores such as GetJar.
Apple passed 15 billion downloads from its App Store in July, noting that there are more than 200 million iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users worldwide.
More than 200 million Android smartphones and tablets have been sold and about 550,000 new Android activations take place each day, Google has said.
To celebrate passing the 10-billion-download mark, Google and a number of developers are offering selected apps for 10 cents for a limited time, Chu said.
"Starting today for the next 10 days, we'll have a new set of awesome apps available each day for only 10 cents each," he said. "Today, we are starting with Asphalt 6 HD, Color & Draw for Kids, Endomondo Sports Tracker Pro, Fieldrunners HD, Great Little War Game, Minecraft, Paper Camera, Sketchbook Mobile, Soundhound Infinity & Swiftkey X."
Each day, until the 10-day period is up, Google will offer another 10 apps for 10 cents each, as listed on the Android Market.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A screen shot of Google's Android Market. Credit: Google
The Kobo Vox tablet feels like a missed opportunity.
Over the last year, the scrappy Canadian e-reading company has released the impressive Kobo Touch eInk eReader and polished its Kobo Reading Life apps into worthy rivals to Amazon’s Kindle apps and Barnes & Noble’s Nook apps on tablets and smart phones.
The company is in the process of being purchased by Japan’s equivalent to Amazon, the massive online retailer Rakuten. Despite Kobo’s largest U.S. retail partner, Borders, closing its doors, it seemed that Kobo was akin to a promising, aspiring prizefighter on the brink of being ready to challenge the heavyweight champs of e-reading, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
With the Vox, Kobo has taken a step back, delivering a product that doesn’t come close to its rivals and one that doesn’t match up to the quality I expected given how much I like the Kobo Touch and Kobo reading apps on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS devices.
On paper, the Vox looked like a smart move, selling for $199.99 and featuring a seven-inch touch-screen with eight gigabytes of built-in storage — that’s the same included storage and price as the Fire and the same as the Nook Color (the Nook Tablet sells for $249). Just as the Nook Color and Nook Tablet do, the Vox features with a MicroSD card slot, which can accommodate a card of up to 32-gigabytes in size, if you don’t mind buying one.
Like the Fire and the Nook, the Vox runs a modified version of the Android Gingerbread operating system, designed by Google with phones, not tablets in mind.
But unlike those two others, Kobo has only made minimal changes to Gingerbread, most noticeably pinning reading-related functions to the bottom of the Vox’s Android home screens.
I was hopeful Kobo would deliver a competitive product, but instead I found myself disappointed at just about every turn in using the Vox.
The hardware, from the outside, isn’t bad looking. The back of the Vox is great to hold on to, with Kobo’s signature quilted pattern rendered in a soft and grippy plastic. On the review unit I tested, a light-blue rim of plastic sat between the back of the Kobo and its 1020 x 600 pixel resolution display.
It’s nice to see a company take a bit of risk design-wise, especially when compared with the boring looks of the Kindle Fire. The Vox is also offered with lime-green, pink and black rims.
But once I turned on the device, it was mostly downhill.
The Vox starts up slow, and I failed to ever reach the seven-hour battery life Kobo claims for the Vox. I usually got about four or five hours of battery life, but there were about four times in my week of testing that the device would shut itself off when falling below an 80% charge (a couple of those delays struck when we were shooting the above video).
When the Vox was up and running, it did so sluggishly. Loading apps, menus, Web pages; checking email; opening e-books; turning pages in e-books — everything took place slowly. It felt as though the Vox was always a step, or a second or two, behind my touch input. The display also fails to match the clarity, brightness, color range or viewing angles of the Fire and the Nook Tablet.
Snappy, speedy, responsive — these are not words I would use to describe the Vox. Too often I found myself staring at a rotating gray circle waiting for something to load. This complaint can partly be attributed to lower-end internal specs, such as an 800-megahertz processor and 512-megabytes of RAM, but if tuned enough with the right software, such hardware shouldn’t be so slow.
Kobo has a solid selection of books available for sale, more than 2.3 million titles. Major new releases are often available at a price that meets or beats those of Amazon or Barnes & Noble. But unlike Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Kobo has no app store — instead directing users to purchase apps from the independent online app store GetJar.
Like Barnes & Noble, but very much unlike Amazon, Kobo has no storefront for music, movies or TV shows, either.
Although I like the hardware of the Nook Color and Nook Table, and I like the software and Web services of the Fire, I can’t say that I’m happy with either the hardware or software offered by the Vox. At the same price as the Fire and the Nook Color, the Vox seems overpriced and more in line with tablets that sold for about $130 to $150 a year ago.
I wanted to like the Vox, but I didn’t. Instead, the Vox feels like a prototype, not a fully finished product ready for the masses. And that left me flatly disappointed.
Photo: The Kobo Vox tablet, on top of an Amazon Kindle Fire and a Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times
It's been a mere two weeks since its much-hyped launch, and Amazon's Kindle Fire has already shaken up the competitive tablet market. The 7-inch device is expected to surpass all other iPad rivals to take second place in the global media tablet business in the fourth quarter, according to information and analysis provider IHS.
The e-commerce giant will ship 3.9 million Kindle Fire tablets during the last three months of the year, IHS said, giving Amazon a 13.8% share of global media tablet shipments. That exceeds the 4.8% held by No. 3 Samsung.
Of course, the Kindle Fire still lags well behind the No. 1 tablet, Apple's iPad 2, which holds a 65.6% share of the market.
IHS said the Kindle Fire's "rapid ascent will help fuel the expansion of the entire market," with the additional shipments adding a 7.7% increase to the firm's forecast of total media tablet shipments this year.
"Nearly two years after Apple Inc. rolled out the iPad, a competitor has finally developed an alternative which looks like it might have enough of Apple's secret sauce to succeed," Rhoda Alexander, senior manager of tablet and monitor research for IHS, said in a statement. "The production plans make it clear that Amazon is betting big on the product."
IHS now predicts that global media tablet market shipments will total 64.7 million units in 2011, compared with the previous forecast issued in August of 60 million. The total shipment level represents 273% growth from 17.4 million units last year.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet. Credit: Emile Wamsteker / Bloomberg
Personalization and targeting provider Monetate has announced support for the Kindle Fire in its cloud-based website optimization platform.
Monetate, which primarily serves the ecommerce market, enables users to segment visitors from tablet devices and deliver platform-specific options to enhance the browsing and buying experience. For example, merchants have the ability to run multiple concurrent A/B and multivariate tests, leverage geographic and weather-based targeting, and deliver custom experiences based on individual user behavior.
Some of the modifications that merchants can make include making navigation menus larger for greater ease-of-use, enable/disable functions including swipe, pinch-to-zoom and multi-touch gestures, and several others including delivering custom messages such as special offers based on the type of device.
"It is becoming clear that tablet users represent a unique segment of consumers with specific needs, habits and purchasing behaviors," says Monetate CEO David Brussin. "In order to close more sales, retailers must proactively tailor the shopping experience to tablet users in a way that takes advantage of the devices' unique characteristics."