Amazon has had a busy 2018 … well, it’s always busy. It’s Amazon. The president has continued to complain about the company, and Gizmodo speculates that his executive order calling for a review of the U.S. Postal Service’s practices is another way to attack Amazon. There are reports of employee mistreatment—The Verge has stories here and here. Fast Company discusses Amazon’s questionable (loose) associations with Breitbart and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader chronicles more of its controversies: pressuring its tenants in Seattle, ignoring scams in CreateSpace (here and here), and mismanaging the Kindle Store (here and here). All of this commentary helps us understand more about Amazon, but it’s always useful to see what the company announces directly so we can keep tabs on where it focuses most often.
Its recent news can be split into the following sections: ecommerce activities, the book business, devices and technology, cloud services, original content offerings, company achievements, and expansion efforts.
Shop ’til You Drop
On Jan. 10, Amazon announced that more than 300,000 U.S.-based small and medium businesses (SMBs) had begun selling on Amazon, via Amazon Marketplace, in 2017. The company shipped billions of items to destinations around the world for SMBs, and half of all items purchased on Amazon come from these businesses. They can use the Fulfillment by Amazon feature to gain access to Amazon’s global logistics network, making their goods eligible for Amazon Prime shipping. More than 140,000 SMBs reached at least $100,000 in sales in 2017. Amazon is often criticized for putting SMBs out of business; it seems that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
On April 17, Amazon launched the International Shopping experience within its Amazon Shopping App for iOS and Android devices, as well as mobile browsers. Customers can purchase more than 45 million items in English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese, and German, and they can pay with 25 currencies (with more languages and currencies to come). Shipping costs and import duty estimates are made clearly visible.
Amazon has yet to ignore its roots. It is still very much involved in the book business, with two announcements so far this year showing that it is still backing both print and digital formats. On Feb. 27, Amazon Publishing introduced a new imprint, TOPPLE Books, to highlight “revolutionary feminist voices.” Jill Soloway, the creator of Transparent—Amazon’s breakout comedy (dramedy?) hit—serves as editor-at-large. Her activism on behalf of LGBT+ representation and TIME’S UP will inform the writers chosen for TOPPLE Books, who will include women of color, people who are gender-nonconforming, and other minorities. Narrative nonfiction and fiction books will be the main focus.
For World Book Day, April 23, AmazonCrossing made nine translated Kindle books free to U.S. customers for 1 week (April 17–24). They include titles originally published in Japanese, Greek, Swedish, and Indonesian. In 2015, AmazonCrossing had committed $10 million to increasing its amount and diversity of books in translation.
Watch and Learn
On April 18, Amazon entered into an exclusive multiyear partnership with Best Buy to sell Fire TV Edition smart TVs, which include Alexa’s voice assistance, in the U.S. and Canada. In summer 2018, Best Buy will roll out at least 10 4K and HD Fire TV Edition models from Insignia and Toshiba. With Fire TV built in to the models, live TV viewing and streaming video are both available. In addition to voice controls for streaming services—Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, etc.—Alexa can search for items on broadcast TV. It can also play music, switch inputs, and control smart home devices, among other tasks.
On April 19, Amazon launched the Alexa Skill Blueprints resource so customers can personalize the skills and responses of its voice assistant Alexa to make it more useful to individual households. They can access 20-plus simple templates (with more to come) that facilitate the creation of trivia games, answers to personal questions, house-sitting instructions, and more. Only the devices registered to that specific Amazon account will be able to use their completed templates. The templates are spread across four categories: Fun & Games, At Home, Storyteller, and Learning & Knowledge.
Amazon has been announcing tech that makes it easier for customers to monitor their homes (you know, for when Amazon packages arrive). On April 5, Amazon Key’s smart-entry features became available across the U.S. to help customers control keyless entry, guest access, and locking/unlocking the door to their home. They can view motion-activated video clips for anyone entering or leaving their property when the door is locked or unlocked. The clips can be turned on or off at any time, and the door can be locked or unlocked, using the Amazon Key App. Service providers such as house cleaners won’t need a key to come and go—instead they can use their own code from the app. Additional features include a livestream of the door, two-way audio communication, and lock/unlock notifications.
On April 24, Amazon went one step further by introducing in-car delivery at no extra cost to Prime members. Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, and Volvo drivers in 37 cities can use their Amazon Key App to allow the delivery of Amazon packages to inside their car while it is parked at home, work, or other publicly accessible location. The cars must be from 2015 or later and have active OnStar or Volvo On Call accounts. More cities and vehicle models will be added over time.
On April 12, Amazon closed its acquisition of home security company Ring and announced a reduced price of $99.99 for the Ring Video Doorbell. The companies will work together to combat neighborhood crime by providing affordable home security products, including spotlight, floodlight, and security cameras. Amazon began investing in Ring in 2016, when the company used Alexa APIs to develop the ability for the voice assistant to show camera feeds from Echo Show and Fire TV.