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November 19, 2007

Is Kindle a sign of WiMax's future?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:00 PM

On Amazon.com today, Jeff Bezos writes a letter to customers, about reading books -- "I love slipping into a comfortable chair for a long read....The physical book is so elegant that the artifact itself disappears into the background. The paper, glue, ink, and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author's world."

And what also remains is Kindle, the wireless portable reading device that Amazon has been secretly working on for more than three years.

With the launch of Amazon's Kindle comes the first-of-its-kind look at what could be a whole new category of wireless devices.

In the WiMax industry, which is attempting to roll out wireless broadband nationwide, there's a lot of talk about consumer devices, including cameras, MP3 players and other devices, always be connected. Sprint Nextel talks about this the most, with Kirkland-based Clearwire also saying that's a potential outcome of having always-on Internet access.

The problem with this is determining how the user should be billed. If Kindle reaches out over the wireless infrastructure for ane-book, who pays for that airtime? The user? In the form of a monthly bill that requires a two-year commitment?

At that point, adoption is almost completely ruled out.

This is why it will be interesting to see how successful Kindle is. It is adopting a new set of billing rules that Sprint Nextel talks about for its WiMax network.

In the press release, Amazon pays for the wireless connectivity for Kindle so there are no monthly wireless bills, data plans, or service commitments for customers.

The next problem is the device's cost: $399.

WiMax is also supposedly able to help with that over the long run. Its chipsets are to be more in line with Wi-Fi, rather than the costly cellular chips that the Kindle requires.

Of course, the WiMax networks still have to be built, and it has to get enough volume for this to happen.

June 5, 2007

Amazon joyo-ful about China

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:56 AM

Shares of Amazon.com rose today after reports quoted CEO Jeff Bezos as saying the company will invest more in China.

Amazon shares added $3.10, $73.52 at noon. Earlier, shares hit a new seven-year high at $73.93.

At a press conference in China, Bezos said the company will put more funding into its business there since it believes the market will grow quickly, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The company owns Chinese online retailer Joyo.com, and the article quoted Bezos as saying Joyo is the company's "fastest growing business anywhere in the world."

Amazon also said it has renamed Joyo.com "Joyo Amazon," and is offering customers a free shipping promotion to go along with the co-branded site name.

May 30, 2007

Amazon: stock price signaling future crash?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:34 AM

Is Amazon.com's stock price getting too expensive? That's what GigaOM is wondering.

Amazon has been trading at 55.7 times its forward earnings, according to GigaOM. Look what happened the last time it got this high. In October 2003, when the company's P/E ratio was at 58.9, the stock began a slide from $60 to $25.

Amazon's stock price is just above the $69 mark, at last check. A year ago it was at $35.

Amazon: stock price signaling future crash?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:34 AM

Is Amazon.com's stock price getting too expensive? That's what GigaOM is wondering.

Amazon has been trading at 55.7 times its forward earnings, according to GigaOM. Look what happened the last time it got this high. In October 2003, when the company's P/E ratio was at 58.9, the stock began a slide from $60 to $25.

Amazon's stock price is just above the $69 mark, at last check. A year ago it was at $35.

May 23, 2007

Amazon buys audiobook publisher. ILounge next?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:16 AM

Amazon.com is pushing further into the audiobook format. The company said today it has bought Brilliance Audio, the largest independent publisher of audiobooks in the country (release here). Brilliance is expected to continue operating out of its offices in Grand Haven, Mich. Amazon didn't say how much it paid for Brilliance.

Separately, Valleywag is speculating that Amazon might be interested in buying iPod enthusiast site iLounge.


May 16, 2007

Amazon digital music store won't have copy protection

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:36 AM

Finally confirming months of swirling rumors, Amazon said today it will launch a digital music store later this year. But unlike the many stores already out there, this one has a twist: its songs won't have copy protection restrictions.

The songs will be in the MP3 format, which means that you can pretty much do anything with a tune, such as copy it to a disc or play it on your iPod or Zune player.

This kind of flexibility is downright terrifying to some in the music industry, who fear that the open format will lead to songs being pirated and shared with others who didn't pay for them. It's a good bet that the store will not have songs from every major music label, although EMI Music said today it will license its catalog.

Amazon isn't saying when the store will open or how much the songs will cost.

Further reading:

The news release.

Jupiter analyst David Card:
"this is a big, big deal, and a critical entrant into the digital music space. Amazon knows how to sell music..."

Techcrunch:
Amazon selling only DRM-free music sends a message that a leading retailer is willing to back consumers over big business and that a digital music business can be built and continued using only DRM-free products.

Engadget: A profitable showing from EMI's "experiment" may very well convince the other labels to accede to consumer demand and start joining the free music party too, meaning that this move by a player like Amazon is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

May 15, 2007

Farecast unveils new features and audit results

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:05 AM

Seattle airfare prediction company Farecast is no longer in its beta, or testing, period starting today. The company also said it's introducing some new features, including an alert system to tell users when certain airfares drop.

Farecast also disclosed the results of an audit of its airfare predictions. The company hired Navigant Consulting to analyze a random sample of 44,000 predictions made in the first three months of the year. Navigant said the predictions had a 74.5 percent accuracy rate.

I did a far less comprehensive survey last fall and found an accuracy rate of about 61 percent.

May 14, 2007

Amazon buys digital camera site

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:28 PM

Amazon.com has bought London-based digital camera site dpreview.com for an undisclosed amount. In a statement announcing the deal, dpreview founder Phil Askey said he didn't have enough time to produce content and come up with new site features. Now with Amazon's help, he said, he'll be able to devote more time to site features.

The Motley Fool says Amazon made the right call:

It expands Amazon's reach to a niche audience that it covets. It also keeps the site away from the competition. As of this morning, some of the ads on DPReview were sending visitors to Amazon rivals like CNET's comparison shopping site and resellers of Kingston memory cards. That will change.

May 9, 2007

A9.com site gets a makeover

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:12 PM

Wow, Amazon.com's A9.com site got a crazy makeover. It doesn't look like a search engine anymore. It looks more like an advertisement, and it has its own slogan: "Innovations in search technologies."

The old A9.com is now called OpenSearch, and it's linked to from the home page. OpenSearch is a search aggregator that shows results from many Web sites, including Wikipedia, Answers.com and Microsoft's Live.com. There's also a Product Search for Amazon's products.

May 8, 2007

SAS: Photosynth as an advertising platform

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:40 PM

One of the most interesting things I've seen from Microsoft in the last year is being pitched as the latest, greatest digital advertising platform. This after Bill Gates described for an audience of advertisers this morning the decline of traditional media business models.

I reported on Photosynth last August, a photo-viewing application that combines technology from University of Washington, Microsoft Research and a Ballard startup called Seadragon Software that Microsoft acquired in late 2005.

A quick reminder of what Photosynth is: The software organizes sets of pictures of a specific thing or place, such as St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy. It matches up elements the photos have in common and uses that information to build a rudimentary three-dimensional map of the space, calculate the position from which each picture was taken and place each in the appropriate 3-D context.

Fluid navigation allows the user to glide from photo to photo and click on a specific element, a mosaic for example, to see other photos that contain the same element. It's like viewing a nonlinear slide show: The user has the freedom to move about the space and view the pictures in any order. It's a bit closer to actually being there. You can learn more about it and check out a preview here.

"This same technology can serve as a way of surfacing an entirely new form of advertisement," Microsoft technical fellow and Live Labs boss Gary Flake told the audience at the company's Strategic Account Summit this afternoon.

We've seen the zooming technology from Seadragon incorporated with Silverlight, the new Web-based video platform Microsoft is pushing. In examples here and at the Microsoft Mix conference in Las Vegas last week, it was used to smoothly zoom in to a super-detailed advertisement or high-definition image starting from a small thumbnail. It could be used to repurpose complex print ads on the Web, company executives have said.

Flake showed a "Photosynth" environment of a commercial space -- a home fixtures store with faucets, cabinets and other hardware.

"I can work my way around the space, navigate around, take a step back," he said, demonstrating the application, which runs in a Web browser. "Maybe there's a sink over here. I can look at that."

On the left, the program displayed Web content that changed to correspond to the specific products he zoomed in on in "the store."

"We've effectively created the ability to place hyperlinks from your physical store to your online store," he said.

The application is a step toward a vision of three-dimensional Internet that Microsoft has articulated for other products, such as its Virtual Earth mapping application. Eventually, these applications could be combined to allow you to "travel" through a three-dimensional rendering of the real world to find a store -- in its actual location -- and then go shopping there.

Flake put it in the context of online virtual reality worlds such as Second Life, where people navigate a made-up world in the guise of whatever avatar they want.

"This is maybe properly referred to as one-and-a-half life," Flake said. "It's consistent with physical reality, but also has the ability of being combined with the Internet and the Web content that's already there."

April 25, 2007

Amazon earnings call transcript

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:55 AM

Here's the transcript from Amazon.com's earnings call yesterday (courtesy of Seeking Alpha).

April 24, 2007

Amazon's solid first quarter

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:15 PM

Amazon beat analysts' expectations and its own forecast for the first quarter. The company announced today sales of $3.02 billion, up from $2.28 billion for the same period a year ago.

Analysts had been expecting sales of $2.9 billion for the quarter. In February, Amazon said it expected first-quarter sales of between $2.85 billion and $3 billion.

The company reported a $111 million profit, or 26 cents a share. That's up from $51 million, or 12 cents a share, in Q1 2006. Taxes made a big difference: the company's tax rate in the 2007 quarter was 23 percent compared with 47 percent in Q1 2006.

The quarter was solid enough for Amazon to raise its earnings expectations for the full year.

Back in February, the company said full-year sales would be between $13 billion and $13.7 billion. Now, it's looking for sales to be between $13.4 billion and $14 billion.

Amazon upped its operating income forecast to between $463 million and $593 million for 2007. The old forecast was between $355 million and $505 million.

Update: The company's stock is soaring in after-hours trading -- currently up $4 from its close of $44.75.

April 20, 2007

Bezos' new Beverly Hills digs

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:07 PM

It's an all-Amazon day here at Tech Tracks. The Los Angeles Times brings word that Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has spent nearly $30 million on a seven bedroom, seven bath mansion in Beverly Hills.

The house, about 12,000 square feet, has a pool, a sunken tennis court, a gym and a separate guesthouse. If Bezos ever wants to start another company in his garage again, he'll have room: this house has a six-car one.

The Real Estalker blog says it has a photo of the house. I don't know how accurate that blog is, however.

So is Bezos moving to Beverly Hills?

Amazon discontinues Plogs

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:44 PM

Amazon.com has discontinued its Plog program, which showed readers a personalized blog on their customer home page. The Plog only appeared if you were logged in, and Amazon decided what posts to send customers. Not everyone was a fan of the format.

The word "plog" is no more, the company said. Instead, Amazon is directing its readers to the new "Amazon Daily," a broad blog that has posts from editors from all over the site. Readers can personalize Amazon Daily to match their interests, and you don't have to be logged in to read it.

Amazon giving peeks at e-reader, says PW

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:19 AM

Publishers Weekly revives the rumor that Amazon.com is working on its own e-book reader, one that will presumably be a strong competitor to Sony's electronic reader.

According to PW, Amazon has been showing off its reader to publishers for months. The head of Harper Collins in the U.K. even mentioned it publicly at the London Book Fair, the article states. The reader, rumored to be called Amazon Kindle, could reportedly be released as early as this spring. Amazon has so far refused to comment on any Kindle rumors.

April 19, 2007

Judy's Book unveils new coupon service

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:10 PM

Missed this one last week: Judy's Book, which seems to have overhauled its business model from local business resource to all-purpose shopping site, launched a service that lets customers search online coupons.

The new service, CouponLooker, keeps track of the current promotional codes that will give discounts on Web sites.

Analyst Greg Sterling writes on his blog today that no site really owns the online coupon business, leaving a wide open opportunity for Judy's Book.

"There's no 'top of mind' coupon site for most consumers," Sterling writes. "And most coupon sites, because of uneven coverage, are 'push' models instead of 'pull' [the search model]."

Bezos buys cost control company

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:22 PM

Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos' personal investment firm has bought out Expensewatch.com. The company, based in Conshohocken, Pa., sells software aimed at helping small businesses control and reduce their operating costs. Its signature product is a Web-based subscription service that tracks travel and entertainment, purchasing and other expenses.

Bezos' investment company, Bezos Expeditions, was already an investor in Expensewatch.com and has two board seats there.

March 29, 2007

Amazonian expansion

Posted by Monica Soto at 3:21 PM

This perhaps doesn't make him the Prince of Wales, but a British Web site today reported that Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos plans to add 1,200 jobs in Wales.

This is the largest job-creation project there since 2000.

Amazon runs the U.K.-based online store.

March 16, 2007

Shareholder lashes into InfoSpace

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:47 AM

Earlier this week (second item), one of InfoSpace's shareholders sent a letter to the Bellevue company expressing concern over cost controls and the lack of capital return to shareholders from InfoSpace's large cash balance.

And on Thursday, Sandell Asset Management notified InfoSpace that it will nominate three "highly qualified independent candidates" directors at the 2007 annual shareholder meeting.

In its first request, Sandell asked InfoSpace to immediately return $300 million of cash, cut $15 million in costs and hire a financial adviser to evaluate the potential sale of the company in whole or in part.

InfoSpace has had difficult times after it was notified last year by its biggest mobile customer, Cingular Wireless, that it would be going directly to the music labels for content, rather than using InfoSpace. That caused InfoSpace to rethink its mobile strategy, and lay off 250 employees to cut costs.

Today, InfoSpace is again more focused on its online portals, like Dogpile, and its mobile infrastructure business, such as search.

February 1, 2007

Wingardium Leviosa!

Posted by Monica Soto at 1:46 PM

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and final book in the wildly popular the Potter series, went on sale today in anticipation of its July 21 debut.

That spells good news for Amazon.com. Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak said the company's "Deathly Hallows" sales today were up more than 200 percent in the first seven hours when compared with the first full day of sales for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

The online retailer has more reason to be hopeful: Amazon customers pre-ordered 1.5 million copies of the "Half-Blood Prince" before it debuted in July 2005.

January 29, 2007

Negative five?

Posted by Monica Soto at 11:14 AM

Amazon.com today announced a special promotion for its new shoe and handbag store: a negative $5 for overnight shipping on all orders placed through the end of February.

The online retailer opened Endless.com in early January, marking its first stand-alone U.S. retail site started from scratch.

Already, the site includes the unique (and expensive) feature of free overnight shipping on all its 250 brands and 15,000 styles for men, women and children.

But a negative five? Let's hope its coffers are as endless as its selection.

January 4, 2007

InfoSpace reorganizes some more

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:49 PM

InfoSpace has cut its staff, shed executives and hired executives all in the past few months.

Today, it announced a new leadership structure and affirmed that it will continue to develop technology to help users discover content and information while using a mobile phone or online.

The Bellevue company said Steve Elfman, executive vice president, will now oversee the company's mobile business unit. Brian McManus, executive vice president, will oversee the online business unit.

Both executives report to Jim Voelker, who has served as chairman and chief executive officer of InfoSpace since 2002.

"With our restructuring behind us, we have turned our focus to some exciting opportunities to build and strengthen the success of both our Online and Mobile businesses," Voelker said. "This new leadership structure aligns with how we now operate, and allows us to focus Steve and Brian's expertise and energy on driving our growth strategy moving forward."

Elfman joined InfoSpace in 2003, where he has overseen the growth of the company's mobile platform and mobile search services. McManus joined InfoSpace in April 2003 to lead the online search and directory business.

Reporting lines within the North American and European Online and Mobile business units will fall under McManus and Elfman, respectively.

December 4, 2006

New Amazon deal with HP

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:12 PM

Hewlett-Packard is going to provide Amazon with industrial speed color printers for Amazon's print-on-demand service, according to FT.com.

An HP executive says it's part of the company's transformation from a printer company to a printing company.

Amazon said the deal would "significantly increase" the number of print-on-demand titles it can offer customers.

November 30, 2006

Cyber Monday's big sales weren't in electronics

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:12 PM

Cyber Monday shopping leaned heavily toward clothing and accessories purchases, according to measurements from Nielsen//NetRatings.

That category rang in 19 percent of total spending to top the list of purchases, followed by office supplies at 13 percent and computer hardware at 11 percent.

The average order size was $76 for apparel, $159 for office supplies and $283 for computer hardware.

November 24, 2006

Gifts we love to hate

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:08 PM

So if you're as bored as we are and searching around for gift ideas for the holiday, let us help. Here, for your Black Friday and Cyber Monday consideration, is a list of awesomely awful tech gifts for the 2006 holiday season. Wallets ready? Let's go!

1. The iPod toilet paper holder. According to the site, this holder "makes it easier for people to listen to beats while using the restroom." Aw. That's nice.

2. The fake half suit for teleconferences, aka the "businessbib." For those days when you can't bother to get out of the T-shirt and sweats you've had on all week. But what happens if you have to duck out of the teleconference to use the restroom? A slow slump under the table might go unnoticed. ...

3. RIAA toilet paper. I hate to continue the bathroom theme going on here, but this toilet paper is emblazoned with the initials of the Recording Industry Association of America. Uh, there's really nothing left to say here.

4. Puget Sound residents might take a particular interest in the CrustaStun, a device that zaps lobsters and other crustaceans with enough electric current to produce "instant anaesthesia" and kill them in five to 10 seconds. We have no guarantee that this actually works as a pain reliever for soon-to-be seafood, but it's gotta be better than hearing that little squeak when you throw a live crab into a pot of boiling water.

5. The Motorized Cruzin' Cooler is a made-to-order go-cart with a 54-quart ice chest as a seat. For when you have no other idea for how to spend $2,000.

6. The Shocking Liar. Put your hand on the device and it will send you a shock if it senses that you're lying. Perhaps this is a party game for the host that hates everyone.

What are we missing here? Have you found other horrific finds to add? Send them in, and maybe we'll get a real best-of-the-worst list going.

(Credit for these finds goes to Popgadget, Boing Boing and Crave.)

November 16, 2006

Vote early, often

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:37 AM

Amazon.com today introduced a promotion that allows customers to collectively choose which discounts the site offers during the holidays.

For the next four Thursdays, "Amazon Customer Vote" offers four deals at dangerously low prices, but customers can only select one.

Voting closes the following Tuesday, with the deals announced that Wednesday.

Today's choices include an Xbox 360 Core System machines for $100 or a Barbie Interactive Princess for $10.

This not being a democracy, the deal items will be offered in limited quantities.

Get your coffee and the day's weather

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:20 AM

The first coffee maker to use Microsoft technology has hit stores, but you may need a Microsoft salary to afford it. The Melitta Smart Mill & Brew machine shows the current weather and uses Microsoft's SPOT (smart personal objects technology) to access the information.

The $200 coffee maker also show's the day's forecast and chance of precipitation as well as sunrise and sunset times. You won't be able to find it in many stores, though; Microsoft says it's on sale at Amazon.com and through Sharper Image.

I wrote about how the SPOT technology works in a recent review of the latest Smart Watch out from Microsoft.

November 13, 2006

Farecast accuracy check

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:02 PM

Farecast says it's 70 to 75 percent accurate when it comes to predicting whether airfares will go up or down. Using this technology, it hopes to become a resource for people who are unsure of whether to buy tickets now or wait for a possible price drop.

I tested Farecast's predictions on nearly 30 routes over the course of two months, and calculated the company's accuracy rate at about 61 percent. (Story here.) Farecast VP Mike Fridgen defended the company's accuracy estimate in light of these findings, saying that's what Farecast came up with when you total the 38 million predictions it makes every month.

Fair enough. But I can see why airlines like Farecast so much. The great majority of the time, it encourages consumers to buy tickets now instead of wait, and sends them directly to an airline's Web site.

Farecast said it had relevant news to share with me on its predictions, but only if I held my story for Monday's paper. Unfortunately, my story was pretty much set to run on Sunday. According to Techcrunch, the news is that the company is coming out with what seems to be an insurance plan against fare increases.

Basically, you pay a small fee to Farecast (up to $10, it sounds like) when the company tells you to wait before purchasing a ticket. If you pay that amount and the fare later increases, Farecast will compensate you for the money you lost while waiting.

An interesting idea, but will it work? I'll check back in with Farecast in the future to see how consumers respond.

November 3, 2006

Amazon's the cover story on BusinessWeek

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:30 PM

BusinessWeek takes an in-depth look at Amazon.com's new technology initiatives and sits down with CEO Jeff Bezos in a cover story out this week:

Bezos wants Amazon to run your business, at least the messy technical and logistical parts of it, using those same technologies and operations that power his $10 billion online store. In the process, Bezos aims to transform Amazon into a kind of 21st century digital utility.

It's a good story, looking at Amazon's attempts to create a brand-new business even as its tried-and-true online retail business is slightly stumbling.

Also, MarketWatch columnist Chuck Jaffe calls Amazon the stupid investment of the week.

October 23, 2006

Big Blue sues Amazon over five patents

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:55 AM

IBM sued Amazon today, claiming the Web retailer has infringed on five of its patents that have to do with recommending products, serving up advertising and storing data.

IBM said that hundreds of other companies are using those patented technologies after paying license fees, and that it tried to negotiate a licensing deal at least a dozen times since 2002.

IBM files more patents than anyone, and certainly knows how to play this out. It filed its lawsuits in Texas, in districts known to be a little more patent friendly. The company isn't saying how much money it wants in damages. I have a call in to Amazon for comment.

October 17, 2006

Amazon analysts getting grumpy

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:50 PM

Only two of 22 analysts have a "buy" recommendation on Amazon.com, although the company's stock price is steadily climbing from the depths of August.

Analysts at ThinkEquity Partners piled on with a Monday report giving a "sell" recommendation on the online retailer and predicting a 10 percent share price drop. (Link here, second item.)

"Glitches, frustrations and outright goofiness remain all too common on Amazon's site ... and in its distribution," wrote Edward Weller and James Maher, analysts with the San Francisco-based firm, about Amazon's new video download service, called unbox.

The analysts went on to say they were "too trusting" of Amazon management.

"We are almost embarrassed to admit that we would have expected something substantial to emerge from the current 'investment' cycle," they wrote.

Not a good note for Amazon to be entering the holiday shopping season on.

October 2, 2006

Amazon's redesigned search engine

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:24 PM

Greg Linden points out today that Amazon.com has redesigned its A9.com search page.

It now appears to be a metasearch engine, like Dogpile or Metacrawler, that gives a lot of control over which seach engines are used.

Greg says he likes the improvements, but I found myself a little confused at the categories. What is the "Web Booster" option? The engine also gives you the choice of searching books by Amazon, all of Amazon and then eight additional categories under the Amazon tab.

Here's Amazon's breakdown of the changes.

September 26, 2006

Amazon un-complicates Unbox

Posted by Monica Soto at 3:17 PM

When Amazon.com unveiled its downloadable movie service, Amazon Unbox, users voiced concerns with software features they called invasive.

The company, renown for its customer service, apparently listened.

Amazon today told Unbox customers that it would add changes to the software Wednesday that include:

The ability to choose if the Unbox service starts when Windows starts.


Resolution of intermittent problems with licensing, downloading, fast-forwarding and rewinding.

Clearer messaging to let you know when your videos are ready to be watched.

And more...

As an incentive to keep using the service, it also credited accounts with a $1.99 instant rebate.

While a classy gesture, the real gift to customer will be offering videos they can take off their computers.

Is Hollywood listening?

"The Faster and More Furious"

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:45 AM

CinemaNow today said it would sell a downloadable version of "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" that can be burned to DVD on the same day the movie is released nationwide in retail stores.

While the movie offering isn't Oscar-worthy, the Marina Del Rey, Calif., company runs the only Web site permitted to provide a burn-to-DVD service for Hollywood movies.

Amazon.com recently jumped into the downloadable movie business with Amazon Unbox, but the service was widely criticized for not offering a burn-to-DVD feature.

For now, CinemaNow's burn-to-DVD offerings are severely limited. (The featured titles in that section include "Inside Man" and "Bulletproof Monk.")

Even so, Amazon should watch closely how its competitor fares. When it comes to persuading Hollywood to loosen licensing restrictions, the online retail juggernaut could be faster and more furious.

September 11, 2006

Amazon Unboxed?

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:46 AM

The geeks have spoken, and it looks like not even a free "Star Trek" episode can entice them to say nice things about Amazon.com's new movie-download service, Amazon Unbox.

The online retail juggernaut unveiled Unbox last week (with an offer for one free TV episode), but observers complain that the viewing restrictions impede it from becoming a viable alternative to efficient video-rental services such as Netflix and Blockbuster.

Stock market blog SeekingAlpha.com posted a review from Caris & Company analyst Tim Boyd, saying the service is ahead of its time.

The Cnet.com Alpha blog said it would not recommend the service for these reasons.

The blog Uninnovate.com said this about the service.

Apple is widely expected to unveil a competing service -- and new video iPod -- on Tuesday. Maybe it'll learn something from Amazon's public un-boxing.

September 7, 2006

Amazon Unbox: First impressions

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:44 PM

Unfortunately, Amazon has a long list of can't-dos for its new Unbox movie download service.

-- You can't use it with a Macintosh or an iPod

-- You have to have Windows XP Service Pack 2 installed on your machine. It also works with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 Update Rollup 2. Try saying that three times.

-- You can't use the Unbox movie player to play movies downloaded from other vendors. It only works with Amazon purchases.

-- You can't download more than one video file at a time

-- You can't watch the movies on your television unless you have some way to connect your PC to your TV -- usually with an S-cable for video. (Or if you have Windows XP Media Center) But S-cables only transmit video, you still have to play the audio part on your computer or on speakers.

-- You can't burn a movie to a DVD and then play that disc on a DVD player. You can only burn a movie to a DVD for backup storage purposes.

-- You must watch a video rental from Amazon within 30 days, or it expires. And once you begin playing it, you have 24 hours to watch the whole thing before it expires.

Amazon said only the following devices have been tested with Unbox. I've added Amazon's selling price for each device in parentheses:

Creative Zen Vision: M (around $275 for 30 GB storage; 60 GB version not available)
Creative Zen Vision ($414 for 30 GB storage)
Toshiba Gigabeat S (I can't even find a "Gigabeat S" on Amazon)
Archos AV 500 ($495 for 100 GB storage)
Archos AV 700 ($535 for 100 GB storage)
iRiver Portable Media Center ($230 for 20 GB storage)

Analyst Michael Gartenberg weighs in with his first take:

Without a compelling device story (and it's not clear YET whether Zune will play protected music or video from Plays for Sure services) it's hard to see this as a real threat to Apple ... for now. Pricing isn't likely to drive folks to use this so for now it's mostly a mobility story without a super interesting mobile device to use it with.

One feature does sound interesting. If you have the Unbox player installed in your home PC, you can log in to Amazon at work and tell it to send a movie to your home PC to watch later.

Amazon.com's new video service live now

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:57 PM

We wrote about it this morning. Go here to check it out on Amazon's site.

September 5, 2006

Redfin a "pariah" to real estate industry?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:41 AM

The New York Times has an interesting story of a Seattle couple that was shunned by a real estate broker because they used the services of local online real estate company Redfin.

The article has a lot to say about Redfin, which rebates two-thirds of its sales commission to its customers, and questions the future of the traditional 6 percent commission for real estate agents.

But as the couple's story shows, people who want to use Web-based brokers often have to fight to do so. Many are, and there are growing signs that they are succeeding. BuySideInc.com, an online buyer's broker in Chicago that offers a 75 percent commission rebate, said that at one point 12 percent of its customers reported that traditional agents had refused to show houses to them.

Rob McGarty, Redfin's director of West Coast operations, said in the article that his company has become a "pariah" to the industry.

August 31, 2006

Google tops rivals in sending traffic to shopping sites

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:25 AM

Search engines are one of the first places to research products before buying them online, but which one sends the most people to shopping sites? No surprise.

The Hitwise research service reports that Google was responsible for nearly 15 percent of all U.S. "upstream" visits to shopping and classifieds sites last week. An upstream site is the Web page visited immediately before the target site. In other words, 15 percent of shopping-related traffic online came straight from Google.

That makes Google hugely valuable to advertisers, especially compared to rival sites. Yahoo! Search accounted for 4.7 percent of upstream visits, and MSN Search was responsible for 2.3 percent.

Social networking site MySpace accounted for 2.5 percent of upstream visits, which is interesting because you can't really research products on MySpace (not yet, at least, but MySpace has just partnered with Google to incorporate Web search).

By the way, the top three product search terms for shopping last week were Barbie, iPod and Heelys roller shoes.

August 25, 2006

More on Amazon's plans

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:01 AM

Technology journalist Glenn Fleishman, who writes the Practical Mac column in our pages, has a cogent analysis of Amazon.com's new EC2 service in the comments, and calls it another piece in the puzzle for wide availability of on-demand commodity computing.

Here's what else Amazon needs to complete the puzzle, he writes:

--Per CPU hour or per transaction SQL service, with the database storage persistent and charged at S3 storage rates.

--Persistent hard drive images that can be mounted and written within the EC2 system. Right now, you create an entire disk image that is non-persistent. If it crashes or when you shut it down, all data on the virtual hard drives is dumped.

--Automatic load balancing for incoming requests across a set of instances. This would allow me to go from, say, 10 virtual servers feeding out my Web site to 1,000 without having to build the software that takes requests to my Web address and redirects that.

"This marks another step in Amazon trying to develop another multi-billion-dollar line of revenue," he writes. "I wouldn't say that they will develop that much out of it, but there's a large potential to make huge sums from tiny amounts."

August 24, 2006

Amazon's new business service

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:59 PM

The folks at Amazon.com are hard at work these days, and not just trying to figure out how to sell you coconut water.

From Greg Linden and others comes word of Amazon.com's new Elastic Compute Cloud. As I understand it, EC2 is a Web service in limited release that lets developers expand their computing power very quickly for Web-based work. If your business suddenly takes off and you've maxed out your server capacity, for example, you can go online and rent more virtual servers from Amazon.

Other companies have offered this for a while, but Amazon says it's different in that it only charges you for the server capacity you use. You don't have to pay for a predesignated amount.

The company is only accepting a limited number of trial users at this point. It sounds like you are required to use this with Amazon's S3 online storage service, which rents out storage to developers on a per-month basis.

I'm not as avid a follower of the company as other reporters on staff, and might not be the best judge as to what this all means. But it seems like this has very little to do with selling things online and more about Amazon positioning itself as a business-to-business service provider. If this takes off, Amazon would get a healthy, stable stream of monthly revenue that could help the company withstand the tumultuous ups and downs of retail sales. And that, especially given the company's recent profit troubles, would be good news.

Amazon's new business service

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:59 PM

The folks at Amazon.com are hard at work these days, and not just trying to figure out how to sell you coconut water.

From Greg Linden and others comes word of Amazon.com's new Elastic Compute Cloud. As I understand it, EC2 is a Web service in limited release that lets developers expand their computing power very quickly for Web-based work. If your business suddenly takes off and you've maxed out your server capacity, for example, you can go online and rent more virtual servers from Amazon.

Other companies have offered this for a while, but Amazon says it's different in that it only charges you for the server capacity you use. You don't have to pay for a predesignated amount.

The company is only accepting a limited number of trial users at this point. It sounds like you are required to use this with Amazon's S3 online storage service, which rents out storage to developers on a per-month basis.

I'm not as avid a follower of the company as other reporters on staff, and might not be the best judge as to what this all means. But it seems like this has very little to do with selling things online and more about Amazon positioning itself as a business-to-business service provider. If this takes off, Amazon would get a healthy, stable stream of monthly revenue that could help the company withstand the tumultuous ups and downs of retail sales. And that, especially given the company's recent profit troubles, would be good news.

August 18, 2006

Amazon.com close to rolling out video downloads?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:55 AM

Amazon's upcoming movie download service looks like it could be close. Advertsing Age had reported that the service will debut in mid-August.

Is it called Unbox Video? PaidContent sniffed out this page on Amazon's site. Some additional screenshots here.

TheStreet.com has turned up the Lumiere digital video store on Amazon's site, though Lumiere looks more like one particular vendor on the site and not the name for the overall service.

Maybe we'll see an official announcement next week?


August 15, 2006

Customers lukewarm on MSN, cool on Yahoo!

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:52 AM

In trying to be everything, Yahoo! is not so stellar at anything, while MSN suffers from its own lack of personality. Those were some of the findings of a report out today called the American Customer Satisfaction Index, produced by the University of Michigan.

MSN scored 74 points out of 100, a slight drop from last year, but its scores have stayed relatively flat since 2003. Interestingly, the report noted that linking Microsoft's desktop brand to MSN holds little benefit for "consumers who embracing the flexibility of the Internet."

"What we hear is they seem to have a lack of personality and unique advantages," said Claes Fornell, a business professor and head of ASCI. "There is nothing to truly set MSN apart from the rest of the field."

Yahoo! had the largest decline in customer satisfaction of any Internet company in the survey, falling from 80 to 76.

"Yahoo! seems to be trying to do too many things for too many people," Fornell said.

Meanwhile, Google continued its strong performance with a score of 81, down a point from the year before, but it led the search engine category.

Companies that performed better than the year before included Apple Computer, which rose from 81 to 83, and Dell, rising from 74 to 78. That is, of course, before the battery fiasco.

Update: Yahoo! responds with data of its own:
"Yahoo! is the only major Internet company to have its average time spent per user increase every quarter over the past year," says spokeswoman Meagan Busath.

That kind of engagement with the portal shows healthy customer satisfaction, she said. Total unique visitors, page views, minutes spent and average usage days per visitor on the Yahoo! home page have all increased since the launch of the new design, she said, citing comScore Media Metrix stats.


August 10, 2006

The other Bezos wins book award

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:00 AM

MacKenzie Bezos, the wife of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is one of 13 people to win an American Book Award for her debut novel, "The Testing of Luther Albright." A full list of winners is on the blog of another winner, Seattle resident Matt Briggs.

On its page about the title, Amazon.com describes it as "rich with symbolism" and predicts that Bezos is off to "a substantial writing career." Might it have been a little awkward to be the staff person writing that one?

At least Amazon also allowed this review to remain on the page: "This book is an endess exercise in self-indulgent navel-gazing."

Here's Seattle Weekly's 2005 profile of Bezos.

August 7, 2006

Amazon.com's wanna-be comedians

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:30 PM

Amazon.com's online grocery shop allows for user reviews of its products, and nearly 500 people with too much time on their hands have written up Tuscan whole milk. Most of them are completely silly, and not all of them are safe for work. Excerpts below. (From Boing Boing)

"The milk is very crisp and smooth in the mouth, with modest sweetness and a dab of cheese flavouring; pleasantly sour aftertaste. Ideally served chilled with grains and pastry."

"I give this Tuscan Milk four stars simply because I found the consistency a little too 'milk-like' for my tastes. Try the Old Chad's Milk from Tasmania for a real milk experience."

"I washed my car with this product and it really looks great, but it has a terrible smell and everyone thinks I left some cheese in the trunk."

"Has anyone else tried pouring this stuff over dry cereal? A-W-E-S-O-M-E!"

July 28, 2006

Amazon.com builds buzz for eventual movie purchase

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:55 PM

The Washington Post has a good article today detailing how Amazon.com took it up on itself to pump up buzz for the novel "The Stolen Child." Amazon has bought the rights to turn the now best-selling novel into a movie.

Mainstream outlets weren't clamoring to review the book when it was released, the article said. So Amazon sent galleys to 100 of the site's top reviewers and posted their laudatory reactions. Suddenly, mainstream newspapers were paying attention.

Amazon also put more than 2 million stickers advertising the book on boxes it was shipping to customers. It didn't charge the book's publisher for this placement.

July 17, 2006

Jobster.com version 2.0

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:54 PM

Jobster.com has re-launched its Web site, turning its corporate site into a destination for job seekers.

The relaunched site, which went live Thursday, provides a big search bar at the top, where users can type in a position and a location. The results are pulled from numerous sites, including Monster.com, Craigslist and others.

But Jason Goldberg, Jobster's founder and chief executive, said it's much more than just a static page of search results. What job seekers will get is a MySpace-like or LinkedIn like experience. Employees at companies will be able to enter their thoughts and feelings about their employer on pages with their profile.

"We coupled results with user-generated content to give a feeling what ti's like to work there. It's a more human experience," he said.

The questions range from everything on what type of music do you listen to to what you can walk to from your office and what you can see from your desk.

July 13, 2006

Startups love Amazon's S3 service

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:49 AM

Om Malik has a good writeup on how startups are loving Amazon.com's S3 Web storage service. Users can store large amounts of information on the Web, which makes it accessible from anywhere, and Amazon charges 15 cents per gigabyte of storage per month and 20 cents per gigabyte of data transferred.

Why the love? Money, of course:

Online photo sharing company SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill seems to be one happy customer, with a good reason. He was facing a hefty tab for storage -- Smug Mug is adding about ten terabytes worth of photos every month and claims he saved almost $500,000 in storage expenses. His monthly tab just in storage is around $1,500.

July 5, 2006

Amazon: Take that, Toys R Us!

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:22 PM

Our colleague Monica Soto Ouchi reports that Amazon.com has launched its own toy and baby stores online. This comes just after the company ended a long relationship with Toysrus.com.

Toys R Us relaunched its new Toysrus.com and Babiesrus.com Web sites last week with another technology partner.

June 27, 2006

Farecast casts off

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:29 PM

Seattle-based Farecast announced today that it is launching the public beta of its airfare prediction Web site.

The company said that traveling from Seattle and Boston can now get free airfare predictions to 120 domestic markets.

The age-old question the site helps people answer is: Should I buy now or later?

"Deciding when to buy airfare has been a guessing game for consumers until now," said Hugh Crean, Farecast's president and chief executive. "With Farecast's airfare predictions and recommendations, online travel shoppers are empowered with better information to make more confident and smarter airfare purchase decisions."

Kim Peterson wrote about the company in May when it announced its private trial.

June 14, 2006

Net neutrality, Amazon and Microsoft

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:23 PM

The issue of "network neutrality" heads to a vote in the Senate next week, but signs are not looking good that the outcome will be any different from last week.

The House of Representatives rejected a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee to prevent telecom companies from charging Internet companies for different tiers of network access. That leaves some consumers wondering whether the Internet without premium service will become as dull as TV without cable.

Today, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he believed the Senate would take a similar vote, according to Bloomberg.

I haven't heard of too many Internet companies setting up shop in Alaska. So far, senators in the land of Amazon.com and Microsoft have been mum on the issue.

Color me good

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:52 AM

New York-based shopping search engine ShopWiki today introduced a smart feature that allows Internet browsers to narrow their product searches by any color.

Type "baseball cap" into the search engine and select the "colors" button at the right-hand top of the page. Click anywhere on the color wheel to find caps that match your preference.

ShopWiki already offers technology that allows online shoppers to specify both a price range and product features (think designer handbag under $200) and a price-slider that automatically narrows searches by price.

Is Amazon.com watching? The online retail giant has said the bulk of its shoppers come to the site searching for a specific item. The ShopWiki feature brings that specificity to a whole new technology-induced level.

June 7, 2006

Take two aspirin and ....

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 1:29 PM

From Business Editor Becky Bisbee:

Drugstore.com leader Dawn Lepore reassured shareholders at the company's annual meeting this morning in Bellevue that her management team is focused on making money one day. In 2005, the company lost $21 million on net sales of $400 million, a loss of 23 cents a share, which was narrower than a net loss of $47.7 million, or 62 cents a share, the year before.

Lepore said the online retailer ended partnerships, such as one with Amazon.com, that didn't perform well and stopped an expensive ad campaign to conserve resources. Over-the-counter health and beauty products are its biggest sellers and contributors to its bottom line.

She reiterated her plan to be EBITDA profitable in the second half of this year, then work on free cash flow and finally be GAAP profitable -- at the $400 million sales level.

Certainly welcome news to investors in the company, which lost $5.3 million in the first quarter on $104 million in sales. The stock has been trading between $4.48 and $2.50 a share and is selling at $2.90 a share today. Two of its biggest investors are Amazon (14 percent) and Melinda French Gates (4.6 percent).

The Web site launched in February 1999 and has never made money.

May 24, 2006

The Mechanical Turk

Posted by Monica Soto at 3:05 PM

Amazon.com has made significant investments in technology and free-shipping promotions. At the company's annual meeting Wednesday, Jeff Bezos chose to display one of the company's more obscure examples:

The Mechanical Turk.

The beta site is so named after the Hungarian nobleman Wolfgang von Kempelen. In 1769, this enterprising fellow built a mechanical chess-playing machine that apparently beat the powdered wigs off even the most astute chess players, including Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. Turns out, hiding beneath the machine's intricate innards was a very small (and very brilliant) chess player.

Now, the company is asking those to try their luck on "artificial artificial intelligence" -- its own version of the Mechanical Turk. The site pays small sums for humans to perform simple tasks that computers still find hard to do.

For $0.01, for instance, you can rank your three "best mashed potatoes in Seattle."

Someone, please pass the salt?

May 19, 2006

You shall not pass?

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:37 AM

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decided to re-examine Amazon.com's "1-Click" check-out system patent after a New Zealand actor raised "compelling" concerns.

This isn't the first time the patent has landed Amazon in court. A month after its 1-Click patent was granted in Sept. 1999, Amazon sued BarnesandNoble.com for using a similar feature. The companies settled the lawsuit in March 2002.

In an odd twist, the patent's validity is being challenged by Peter Calveley -- among a dozen actors to provide motions for "The Lord of the Ring's" computer-generated elves and orcs.

We're sure Amazon wants to send the lawsuit into the firey chasms whence it came.


May 2, 2006

Amazonian gift

Posted by Monica Soto at 5:14 PM

Amazon.com founder and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos donated nearly 30,000 shares to one or more charities, according to a new regulatory filing.

At yesterday's closing price of $34.38, the stock is worth north of $1 million. No word on who got the loot.

Our vote? Trekkies Anonymous.

May 1, 2006

Soaring pay

Posted by Monica Soto at 12:25 PM

How much did Expedia executives make last year? The company filed its proxy today with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In addition to a $1.1 million salary and bonus, CEO Dhara Khosrowshahi's pay package included $31,434 for personal use of an aircraft jointly owned by Expedia parent IAC.

April 28, 2006

Mother of all IT deals

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:12 AM

Plano, Texas-based EDS today announced a seven-year, $1.7 billion global IT services agreement with Kraft Foods.

EDS will support Kraft in 72 countries, with services such as data centers, hosting, telecommunications anad workplace support centers starting in June.

Its partners, including Dell, Microsoft and Cisco, will provide hardware and software to Kraft. Roughly 670 Kraft employees globally will transfer to EDS as part of the deal.

April 27, 2006

New playmates?

Posted by Monica Soto at 12:17 PM

Will Amazon.com and Toysrus.com ever play together again?

We wrote about Amazon's efforts to reinstate the long-time, embattled partnership.

But PiperJaffray analyst Aaron Kessler wrote in a research note today that it appears Toys 'R Us might have chosen GSIC to power its Web site, once its partnership with Amazon ends June 30.

Toys R Us Deal Appears Likely. While GSIC did not comment on whether it has won the Toys R Us Deal from Amazon, we believe it is highly likely that is has. GSIC noted they will build a new call center this year and has plans for a new warehouse in 2007, which we believe will be used to support a customer the size of Toys R Us. In terms of financial impact, we believe Toys R Us was generating at least $50M in fees for Amazon a year. While we do not expect the Toys R us deal to be this lucrative for GSIC, we believe it would be very material to both revenues and earnings. We would not be surprised to see Toys R Us add $10-$15M to our 2007 EBITDA estimate.

April 26, 2006

Naughty Amazon?

Posted by Monica Soto at 4:21 PM

Our newspapers headlines in the U.S. are too tame. Here's the headline for our story about Amazon.com seeking to reinstate its partnership with Toysrus.com.

Here's what The Australian wrote.

April 21, 2006

Weighing Amazon's vision

Posted by Monica Soto at 11:11 AM

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos today released his annual letter to shareholders.

The gist? The online retail giant is good at measuring things. (They love to weigh every little thing at this company.)

But Amazon has made some bets in recent years that cannot be measured or weighed in a math-based sort of way. A prime example:

It has continued to lower prices for customers over time -- it began this process in 2000 -- as it has become more efficient in the way it picks, packs and ships items, while also achieving the benefits of scale.

(Conventional wisdom would be to stop giving so much of the store away at this point.)

It has also made significant investments in technology and free-shipping promotions, all of which have served to chip away at the bottom line, at least for the short-term.

Amazon has consistently tried to point investors to the long-term. Bezos continued to defend this approach in his annual letter:

Math-based decisions command wide agreement, whereas judgment-based decisions are rightly debated and often controversial, at least until put into practice and demonstrated. Any institution unwilling to endure controversy must limit itself to decisions of the first type. In our view, doing so would not only limit controversy ... it would also significantly limit innovation and long-term value creation.

Peaches and diamonds

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:36 AM

It's proxy season and online jeweler Blue Nile has two board members up for election, including one notable figure from our tech-boom past.

Mary Alice Taylor was chairman and chief executive of HomeGrocer.com from September 1999 to October 2000, when the Kirkland-based online grocer (famous for its peach-emblazoned vans) was sold to rival Webvan. It took that company less than a year to drive the entire venture into the ground.

Taylor is now an independent business executive, who serves on the boards of Allstate, Autodesk and Sabre Holdings.

Meanwhile, Blue Nile CEO Mark Vadon's take-home pay (including bonus) was $357,725 in 2005, a 4.8 percent drop from the year before when he received a heftier bonus.

Vadon owns 1.7 million shares, or 9.7 percent of the company.


April 20, 2006

SaaS-sy

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:51 AM

There's no shortage of questions swirling around the software as a service (SaaS) business model.

That was in evidence at last night's WSA dinner/panel discussion on the topic. Moderator Timothy Chou, who wrote "The End of Software," called SaaS "a fundamental economic shift."

But one audience member asked how fundamental it can be until major Microsoft programs are delivered over the Web.

John deVadoss, director of architecture strategy at Microsoft, emphasized that it's not a choice between SaaS or the traditional ("old world," as Chou put it) perpetual license model. He's all about the "and," noting that the company's Live platform includes components of software and services.

SaaS doesn't succeed or fail on Excel being delivered exclusively through a service model, deVadoss said.

Chou, formerly president of Oracle on Demand, pointed out that several of today's high-flying Net companies -- Amazon.com, eBay, Google, WebEx Communications -- are operating on a SaaS model. Walk around Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., he suggested, and all you'll find are programmers. "They're fundamentally a software company."

Another interesting tidbit: Nick Blozan senior veep of sales and marketing at OpSource, which acts as a contract manufacturer for delivering SaaS, asked who in the audience works for a company delivering SaaS now, or aspiring to do so. Nearly everyone put a hand up. Then he asked who is currently using SaaS, or wanted to. Far fewer raised a hand.

Steve Singh, chairman and CEO of Concur Technologies, which managed an "excruciating" transformation to the SaaS model and is now thriving, said SaaS will become a pervasive, long-term trend because it demands companies to be accountable to customers who have short-term contracts and can easily move from one vendor to another. It also has to be cheaper than any other option customers can choose, and highly focused, he said.

"It has to be like a utility switch. Nobody ever comes in and says thank God the electricity is working today," he said.

SaaS-sy

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:51 AM

There's no shortage of questions swirling around the software as a service (SaaS) business model.

That was in evidence at last night's WSA dinner/panel discussion on the topic. Moderator Timothy Chou, who wrote "The End of Software," called SaaS "a fundamental economic shift."

But one audience member asked how fundamental it can be until major Microsoft programs are delivered over the Web.

John deVadoss, director of architecture strategy at Microsoft, emphasized that it's not a choice between SaaS or the traditional ("old world," as Chou put it) perpetual license model. He's all about the "and," noting that the company's Live platform includes components of software and services.

SaaS doesn't succeed or fail on Excel being delivered exclusively through a service model, deVadoss said.

Chou, formerly president of Oracle on Demand, pointed out that several of today's high-flying Net companies -- Amazon.com, eBay, Google, WebEx Communications -- are operating on a SaaS model. Walk around Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., he suggested, and all you'll find are programmers. "They're fundamentally a software company."

Another interesting tidbit: Nick Blozan senior veep of sales and marketing at OpSource, which acts as a contract manufacturer for delivering SaaS, asked who in the audience works for a company delivering SaaS now, or aspiring to do so. Nearly everyone put a hand up. Then he asked who is currently using SaaS, or wanted to. Far fewer raised a hand.

Steve Singh, chairman and CEO of Concur Technologies, which managed an "excruciating" transformation to the SaaS model and is now thriving, said SaaS will become a pervasive, long-term trend because it demands companies to be accountable to customers who have short-term contracts and can easily move from one vendor to another. It also has to be cheaper than any other option customers can choose, and highly focused, he said.

"It has to be like a utility switch. Nobody ever comes in and says thank God the electricity is working today," he said.

April 18, 2006

Amazon bulks up

Posted by Monica Soto at 4:48 PM

Amazon.com is known to compete with online retailers from eBay to Overstock.com, but could it be going after the Costcos of the world, too?

The longtime purveyor of books, electronics and tools has quietly expanded into pre-packaged foods, according to online reports.

Amazon now sells everything from Kellogg's Rice Krisipies cups (by the case) to an individual Ortega taco kit.

The Seattle company introduced a gourmet foods section in November 2003, but it was reserved for higher-end items such as Russian Beluga caviar and Comte AOC cheese.

The company didn't immediately return a call for comment.

Because Amazon sells products from third-party vendors alongside its own offerings, it shouldn't surprise us that two taco kits were available under its "used and new" section.

We'll just assume the boxes are unopened.

April 6, 2006

Getty Images swallows partner

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:51 PM

Getty Images, the world's largest stock photo company, just got larger.
Today Seattle-based Getty announced it has acquired Pixel Images of Ireland for $135 million in cash. Pixel owns Stockdisc and Stockbyte, Getty's largest image partner. Owning the content it already distributes will increase its margins and add flexibility, Getty says.
The purchase comes just two months after Getty bought iStockphoto for $50 million in a bid to enter the low-cost "micropayment" business. Both Stockbyte and iStockphoto offer royalty-free images, Stockbyte's for as little as $45 and iStockphoto's for as low as $1.

April 4, 2006

DocuSign gets $10 million check

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:24 PM

Moving further toward a paperless world, Seattle's DocuSign said today it raised $10 million from Sigma Partners to complete its second round of funding.

DocuSign provides an electronic signature service that works through a Web browser. It received initial funding from angel investors, followed by $4.6 million from Ignition Partners and Frazier Technology Ventures in 2004.

Founded in 2003, the company now has about 35 employees and 1,000 customers, most of them small businesses.

In case you were wondering whether the documents for Sigma's investment were signed electronically, they were, says DocuSign's Jerry Johnson.

Speakeasy founder launches Ookla

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:00 PM

Mike Apgar, the Seattle entrepreneur who founded Speakeasy as an Internet cafe in 1994, said today he'll be leaving the company to focus on his new venture, called Ookla. See this story for more information.

April 3, 2006

Congrats Placeholder Team!

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:09 AM

Amazon.com sent a promo e-mail to customers a day too early, offering them a chance to buy gear from the 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball championship team ... whoever they are.

The e-mail:

From: Amazon.com [mailto:promo-core@amazon.com]
Sent: Monday, April 03, 2006 7:41 AM
Subject: [placeholder for winning team] Wins the NCAA Tournament!

Congratulations, [placeholder for winning team]! As someone who has purchased sports products from Amazon.com, we thought you should be the first to see our selection of NCAA championship products.

The writer of this e-mail may have money on the Bruins. While the e-mail subject congratulated an unspecified team, the promo headline declared UCLA the winners.

The Bruins face the Florida Gators 6:21 tonight for the national title.

March 13, 2006

Being in control online

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:00 PM

Microsoft said today it will integrate free parental controls into its Windows Live online service in a program called Windows Live Family Safety Settings.

The service is scheduled to start this summer and roll out over the year. It's expected to eventually include content filtering for Web sites, online activity reports and control over permissible contacts in the Windows Live e-mail, messenger and blogging features. Previously, Microsoft offered parental controls in its MSN Premium service at a monthly cost of $10.

Note that Microsoft isn't using the term "parental controls" for its service, and that's intentional, according to Alan Packer, a product manager working on the service.

"Everyone knows what parental controls means, but no one likes the term," he said. "Customers would say, 'I don't want to control my kid, block them or spy on them.' "

Bonus flight

Posted by Monica Soto at 11:35 AM

Expedia.com's CEO just saw his annual pay soar, according to regulatory filings.

The company's board of directors voted to increase Dhara Khosrowshahi's annual pay from $550,000 to $1 million, effective Feb. 13.

Khosrowshahi is also eligible for an unspecified cash bonus, plus 800,000 restricted stock units - both of which are tied to the company's performance, according to the compensation plan filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Khosrowshahi has work to do - the online travel-booking site's stock is down 22.6 percent since it spun off from parent InterActiveCorp last August.

Microsoft unveils On10.net

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:32 AM

The Microsoft site On10.net apparently moved out of mystery mode over the weekend, and today it has a video tour of Seattle's KEXP radio station.

The site has a note from the team behind it:

"Every weekday at 10:00 am (PST) we'll update this site with a new video that highlights people, their passions and often the technology they are using. At the end of each week we compile these videos into a full length show with some extra surprises for you.


In addition to the show, we're launching a number of blogs for the enthusiast covering a wide range of topics. Our blogs will be written by Microsoft employees, members of the 10 community or a mixture of both."

Right now there are two blogs: One about the show and one that promises to "explore, inform, debate and discuss the many issues and opportunities surrounding the adoption and implementation of the latest information technology solutions in healthcare." Oookayyyyy ...

Amazon, are you paying attention?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 7:07 AM

Google is selling books online for its partners, according to its Book Search beta page:

"The Google Books Partner Program is developing tools for publishers to experiment with new and innovative ways to increase book revenue. The first of these tools allows you to sell online access to your book. Once you set a price for your book, users who discover it through Google Book Search will be able to pay for access to its full contents. The book will only be available to the user once they've signed in with their personal account, and will only be available through their browser. Users will not be able to save a copy on their computer nor copy pages from the book."

Google says that soon, it will let users pay for immediate access to books right from the browser. At first glance, it seems the company is getting into online retail.

Here's Publishers Weekly's take on it.

March 10, 2006

Amazon goes to the movies

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:14 PM

Amazon is exploring the movie downloading business, The New York Times reports, and is talking with three studios about a service that would let customers download movies and burn them onto a DVD.

Meanwhile, folks from Moviebeam stopped by my office today to talk about their service, which allows users to rent from a rotating set of 100 movies stored on a set-top box. Moviebeam uses public broadcasting TV signals to load movies into the set-top box, a system which was developed in part using technology from Kent-based Dotcast. The service runs on Microsoft's Windows Media platform.

Carl Crabill, MovieBeam's vice president for sales and marketing, said the company later this year will integrate wireless Internet access into the box so that customers can download movies from a large library of older titles. Personal computers will be able to do this as well, and down the road that will likely mean making the movies playable on portable media players.

After years of basically no progress, this field is now moving along very quickly.

February 16, 2006

Is the music playing at Amazon?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 7:55 AM

February 15, 2006

No Celebration

Posted by Monica Soto at 6:02 PM

At Celebrate Express, there was little cause to party today..

The company announced the resignation of its founder and chief executive, on the same day it significantly revised its earnings forecast for the fiscal year.

Celebrate Express named finance vice president Darin White interim chief executive while it searches for a permanent replacement for founder and CEO Mike Jewell.

Jewell will remain on the company's board of directors. Neither Jewell nor the company returned phone calls.

The company, which operates the online retail sites BirthdayExpress.com, StorybookHeirlooms.com and CostumeExpress.com, said it would post a third-quarter loss after delays in the automation of its distribution center led to higher-than-expected costs. It also plans to increase shipping rates charged to customers to reduce the impact of rising outbound shipping costs.

For the full year, the company forecast sales of between $86 million and $88 million and a profit of 27 to 30 cents. While its sales forecast remained the same, its profit guidance is 17 to 18 cents lower than before.

Low-flying quarter

Posted by Monica Soto at 4:46 PM

Online travel-booking site Expedia saw its shares plunge 16.0 percent in after-hours trading Wednesday after the company reported fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that landed short of analysts forecasts.

The company said its fourth-quarter profit fell 42.9 percent to $25.2 million, or 7 cents a share. Sales, meanwhile, rose 13 percent to $494.7 million, as it booked less revenue per airline ticket.

The company's quarterly adjusted earnings, which exclude non-cash expenses and non-recurring charges, were 20 cents, or 5 cents shy of analysts' forecasts.

Chairman and Internet mogul Barry Diller said Expedia operated in a "fiercely competitive environment" during the final three months of the year.

Investors will hold down shares until they figure out how long Expedia will take to ride out the turbulence.

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