New Deal Could Take Netflix to Infinity and Beyond

In their biggest exclusive content deal yet, Netflix has been handed the keys to the Magic Kingdom, as they signed an estimated $300 million deal with Disney that will give them access to the vaults of the famed production company.

The amount of content this gives the streaming powerhouse is nothing short of incredible. Not only will they be gaining access to the Disney classics collection (my inner child is freaking out), but they will also be securing new Disney releases during the same time that cable services get them (estimated to be about 6 to 9 months after theatrical releases), and starting in 2016 Netflix will become the exclusive provider of Disney films as they become available. Oh and, in case you were wondering, this means they gain the rights to the entire Disney family of films which includes Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Walt Disney (classics), and Disneynature.

My not so professional opinion? Yowza.

The timing couldn’t be better for the acquisition since Netflix has started to get behind their Just For Kids section in a big way, and the recent loss of Starz caused some to question if they could handle the impact of the missing content. Not that there was ever a bad time to acquire the films of one of the largest and most cherished production companies in the world mind you, and now the pressure is on the competition more than ever. While Amaon’s deal with Epix, and Hulu’s with Criterion have provided each some worthy bragging rights, they now may be forced to humbly admit that neither of them had the ability to pull off a deal of this magnitude, and they must now retreat to the drawing boards to formulate an effort that will match the even greater attention, and subscriptions, that Netflix will garner from the exclusive rights to one of the most widely regarded and beloved collection of movies available from a single source.

It’s a game changer with no hyperbole possible in describing its implications.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must patiently await the arrival of “Heavyweights” on Netflix Instant.

“Do It To It Lars!”

Could Amazon Soon Be Offering Same Day Shipping?

I’ve worked for small retail websites before, and the number one customer question you have to deal with is “where is my order?” While consumers are becoming more and more tech savvy every day, many are still confounded that a digital order, paid with digital funds, still must be physically shipped and that takes (*gasp*) time. Days even, sometimes. Of course, these increased expectations are also a result of sites like Amazon who are able to feature just about every good you could want, at bargain prices, and offer some of the most competitive shipping speeds available with services like Amazon Prime.

And now, the online retail giant may be looking to inflate expectations even more.

Rumors are circulating that Amazon may be looking to set up new distribution centers all across the country. Now you could probably think of a million reasons a company like Amazon would pull of such an incredible expansion, but the official theory is that this is actually an attempt by Amazon to offer same day shipping to their customers.

Maybe I’m just being shortsighted, but I honestly didn’t see this day coming. Being able to process, ship, and deliver an order in a 24 hour period would be an absolute game changer if Amazon can actually pull it off. However, they are going to have to carefully consider what this means for costs. Amazon’s distribution centers are currently set up in low or no tax states, and they ideally pass these savings on to their customers. Setting up shop nationwide won’t only lead to short term major expenses, but long term ones as well when you figure in the additional tax that is incurred on all orders and shipments. Even if the same day service is only available through a paid subscription, the costs may be too great to not eventually impact prices across the board. Not to mention the logistics of handling such quick turnaround on shipments may be too much for a company who only recently saw fit to give their employees air conditioning.

Still it’s impossible to not see the benefits here. The biggest downside to online shopping is the waiting period, and Amazon could virtually eliminate that. Also while this does impact “mom and pop” websites, any retailers who use Fulfilled By Amazon services (Amazon FBA) could see their products arrive quicker, and sell faster than ever (even if Amazon’s stocking fees go up as a result). The how, and how much, questions are looming over this news in a big way, but the fact is that now that the idea is out there, if it’s not Amazon who does it first, they could be beat to the punch. For better or worse then, they may have to take the initiative on this one, and see how their cards fall afterwards.

Amazon Looking to Rekindle the Tablet Wars with the Kindle Fire 2

It’s looking more and more like the launch of the Google Nexus 7 tablet is just the start of a firestorm about to hit the affordable tablet market. Appropriately then, Amazon is looking to jump back into the fray by fighting that fire with one of their own.

According to rumors first started by a report in the China Times, Amazon is looking to start production early on the Kindle Fire 2, possibly aiming for a release as soon as this summer. While details are sparse on the upgraded Fire, the word is that Amazon’s Taiwan partner Quanta has received the go ahead to start production on what could possibly be a few different models of the Fire. While all of the models are currently being predicted to retain the original Fire’s 7-inch screen (with the base model retaining the $199 price point), most likely the different units will feature increasingly larger storage capacities and work off an increasing pricing structure similar to the  Nexus 7. There’s even word going around that the most expensive unit of the three will include a built-in camera and 4G capabilities. It’s also hard to imagine that even the base model of the new Fire won’t include a faster processor, better screen resolution, and a longer battery life if it looks to keep up with the standard Nexus 7.

I know a few people that own the original Kindle Fire, and the general consensus that you get from them is that “it does what I need it to do,” That’s a far cry from the original mission statement of the Fire when it was still marketing itself as a rival to the iPad at a much cheaper price. Since then, the smaller, cheaper tablet has established a market of its own with the Kindle Fire being seen as the fore bearer, and even the front-runner, of the new line. Considering, though, that Apple, the company whose iPad helped kick off this new war, is allegedly looking to release their own smaller tablet, the big question is if Amazon would do better holding off and seeing what the industry’s giant is going to bring to the table first before jumping the gun with this 2nd generation Fire. Otherwise, the novelty and name power they launched the Fire with in the first place may not hold up if a rushed product that is only meant to compete with the newest kid on the block eventually turns them into another face in the crowd.

i’LL See You in Court

Assuming the Mayan calendar got it all wron, and we’ll all live to see 2013, then Apple’s got a day in court to look forward to.

As ruled by Manhattan judge Denise Cote, on June 3rd, 2013 the tech giant will be called forward to respond to the allegations that it helped to orchestrate a coalition of major book publishers (including MacMillan, Penguin Group, Hachette, HarperCollings and Simon & Schuster) in order to set a mandate that any publisher who sold their books via iTunes would not be able to sell them for a lower price anywhere else.

Where the monopoly accusation gets tricky is the idea that any possible coalition that may have been formed was potentially done with the intention of breaking up the stranglehold monopoly that Amazon held on the eBook industry at the time. Apple’s official statement on the subject treads incredibly close to supporting this theory when spokesperson Tom Neumary said at the time of the accusation:

“The launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. Since then customers have benefited from eBooks that are more interactive and engaging. Just as we’ve allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore.”

For an official statement, it’s pretty gutsy. In fact, it reads to me more like the title of OJ’s book (“If I Did It“) than it does an outright hands in the air denial.

Nevertheless, as HarperCollings, Simon & Schuster and Hachette have all settled out of court, its down now to MacMillan, Penguin and Apple themselves to face the Deparment of Justice accusation next year.

The ramifications of this future decision will obviously be far-reaching if Apple is found guilty, but even an innocent verdict raises the uncomfortable question of whether or not a tech giant just got away with a business crime under the basis that it was for “the greater good.”

Apple Owners Rejoice! Free Apps Are on the Way

Since spearheading the Android App Market and launching the Kindle Fire, Amazon has seemingly been on a mission to promote themselves as the kinder, gentler Apple alternative. While stopping shy of ever viciously calling out their rival, the message is clear that they believe themselves to be more of a service “of the people” than their counterpart. One of the ways they have done this is by offering a Free App of the Day service that allows its users to snag a free download of an app selected by Amazon. Ranging from games to useful services, it’s a must have feature that, until now, has provided Android owners with another feature to rub in the face of the iMasses.

I say “until now” because it looks like the empire has caught on to the rebel plans.

Yes, its happy days again Apple owners. Apple is now offering its own free app service, only this one will be a free app of the week and not of the day. The good news is that the first app of this service is the brilliant and addictive “Cut The Rope: Experiments“ game, which went from “should be essential” to “no conceivable reason not to download” courtesy of the new promotion. Not content to just borrow from one rival, though, Apple has also introduced an “Editor’s Choice” feature (seemingly a replacement for their staff picks and game of the week features) that highlights the newest and best apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The initial showcases are Facebook Camera, “Extreme Skater,” “Air Mail” and Sketchbook Ink.

Of course, all jokes about theft are actually jokes. Developers have been running their own free app promotions since the start of the market, and independent sites have been offering the same, as well as highlighting the best new apps for the same period of time. In truth it is refreshing to see Apple offer these services on their own, and considering that the Apple app market is richer and fuller than that of its rivals, even an app a week instead of one a day is an astoundingly good deal that should produce something of must have quality each outing.

Although it should be noted that the “App of the Week” feature hasn’t officially been confirmed as a permanent addition. However since they’ve launched a new Twitter tag for it, not to mention those large banners for the service on their site, things look good. It’s going to be interesting to see if Apple looks at the success of this initial offering to judge if it will continue in the future. It’ll be interesting because we can’t know if Apple will look at giving away lots of free merchandise as a positive marketing ploy, or the root of all known evil.

Again, joking.

Amazon buys for $540 million

Diapers.comAmazon got set to announce another acquisition this weekend. The target this time is a company that uses complex algorithms to deal with baby poop. Amazon is looking to buy Quidsi, the company that owns, for $540 million.

I don’t have any children, but I still know that diapers are about as hot a topic among new parents as the impending Call of Duty launch is among fifteen year-old boys. Quidsi is of particular interest to Amazon because of its technical approach to problems like stocking shelves. One of the company’s founders told Inc. last year:

So before we launched, we built proprietary software from scratch. We built software with computational algorithms to determine what the optimal number of boxes to have in the warehouse is and what the sizes of those boxes should be. Should we stock five different kinds of boxes to ship product in? Twenty kinds? Fifty kinds? And what size should those boxes be? Right now, it’s 23 box sizes, given what we sell, in order to minimize the cost of dunnage (those little plastic air-filled bags or peanuts), the cost of corrugated boxes, and the cost of shipping. We rerun the simulation every quarter. Using the right box probably adds close to 1 margin point.

Sound familiar? That’s exactly the kind of thing that helped Bezos make a name for himself. It’s also how Zappos, which Amazon also acquired not so long ago, ran their online shoe store.

The crazy part of the deal, though, is that Amazon paid $200 million over the company’s most recent venture valuation. I’m not sure why, unless they really wanted to be sure they were the ones to get it. Apparently Wal-Mart had also been sniffing around Quidsi.

Source: CNN Fortune

Will Amazon Singles survive the deluge of crap it’s sure to elicit?

Graphite Kindle.

Yesterday Amazon announced a new category of products for its Kindle store. Dubbed Amazon Singles, the new category is aimed at getting consumers to pay for written works that fall somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 words, or 30 to 90 pages.

There are a few problems with this strategy. First, there’s no market for that kind of content. That sounds like a good thing, but in my mind there is no market for a reason. Works of that length tend to be either too much or too little, rarely just right. More importantly, though, is that they aren’t published anywhere else. Though Amazon wants you to believe that great ideas will surface as a part of the Singles program, the reality is that the fairly small Kindle-using population will have access to these things and only a percentage of those users will actually read what’s inside.

More likely is that Amazon will see a surge of submissions to its digital publications service, submissions that are, as we should expect, too much or too little on a given subject. Plenty of would-be authors have a 60 to 90-page project attracting silverfish on a floor somewhere, but how many of them would we actually want to read through?

The one thing Amazon got right is lower prices. There will be people attracted to those lower prices, but it will be solely for price. Several authors have already set a precedent for free content on the Kindle, a practice that has yielded some decent exposure. Will the same be true for shorter works that come with a fee? I doubt it.

Amazon looks to hook college students

Amazon box.A couple years back I took the free trial of Amazon Prime and good god did I abuse it. Of course, that’s what Amazon hopes for. You get free two-day shipping and you buy all kinds of shit you don’t need just so it can arrive quickly. It is a cathartic experience.

Amazon is hoping to lure college students with the same deal. To take advantage of the deal, all you need is a .edu email address and have yourself enrolled in at least one college course. My girlfriend actually discovered this the other day by accident and got way too excited about it. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing an inordinate number of packages arriving over the next few days.

So, college students, consider yourselves warned. Yeah, you save $79 on the service, but you’ll blow past that number in about a week of unnecessary purchases.

Amazon launches IMDB app for the iPad

IMDB on the iPad.Though Amazon may be loathe to admit the iPad’s success, that hasn’t stopped it from aggressively developing and releasing applications for Apple’s successor to the Kindle. Along with the Kindle app for the iPad Amazon has released an IMDB app that takes advantage of the iPad’s big ol’ screen.

In this case the app only differs from the iPhone in that it’s been optimized for a larger screen. It still offers the same information, which according to IMDB is access to the info on 1.5 million movie and TV titles and 3.2 million celebrities, actors, actresses, directors and crew members.

One of the best features for the iPad will be watching trailers in HD. That screen is just so damn pretty.

Amazon wants to be your digital media hub

Amazon box.Amazon’s been struggling to keep up in the new ebook market. With Apple fast encroaching and stealing away publishers with the promise of more flexible contracts, Amazon’s trying to keep its hand deep in the content cookie jar, in some cases with threats. But Amazon knows that books aren’t the only frontier. As some recent job postings show, the company is looking to get into game download distribution, like Valve’s Steam.

The news comes from Lazard Capital, market analysis firm that says, “As in other segments of digital media, we expect Amazon to pursue new opportunities as an aggregator of online games, similar to Steam (PC), BigPoint (browser) and others.” It would put Amazon in an interesting position that no one else holds in the market, sort of like the Wal-Mart of digital media. If this is true I’d say it’s entirely possible to see them get into the video market as well, with some sort of answer to the iTunes platform. I know plenty of people that currently choose Amazon for music over the Apple alternative.

The news is backed up by claims that Amazon is hiring somewhere in the range of 1,000 new employees, many of whom will be software developers.

Source: MCV