The Kindle Voyage is no more. The e-reader is currently unavailable through Amazon, as noted by a few sites. You can still pick up a refurbed version through the retailer, but listings for the new model note that, “[t]his item is only available from third-party sellers.” TechCrunch confirmed that the product is no longer available […]
The Kindle Voyage is no more. The e-reader is currently unavailable through Amazon, as notedby afew sites. You can still pick up a refurbed version through the retailer, but listings for the new model note that, “[t]his item is only available from third-party sellers.”
TechCrunch confirmed that the product is no longer available with Amazon, which noted, “that customer response to Kindle Voyage has been incredibly positive and we’ve sold out.” While Amazon’s refusing to disclose any further information, if there was a refresh on the way, the company likely would have noted as much on the site as is its custom.
All of this probably means there’s either new model on the way or, more than likely, the Voyage has been sunset. The device was first introduced in 2014 as a thinner, lighter and generally more premium version of the popular reader. The arrival of the higher end Oasis two years later, however, has made the product a bit redundant.
The culling of the line was probably a bit overdue, really. Amazon’s the far and away leader in devoted e-readers, but even without the Voyage in the lineup, there’s plenty of variety to be had in a still fairly narrow space.
Soon, Saint Louis University students won’t be able to avoid Amazon’s near ubiquitous smart speakers. The university announced this week a plan to outfit living spaces with 2,300 Echo Dots. The devices are set to be deployed by the time classes start, later this month. SLU is quick to note that it’s “the first college […]
Soon, Saint Louis University students won’t be able to avoid Amazon’s near ubiquitous smart speakers. The university announced this week a plan to outfit living spaces with 2,300 Echo Dots. The devices are set to be deployed by the time classes start, later this month.
SLU is quick to note that it’s “the first college or university in the country to bring Amazon Alexa-enabled devices, managed by Alexa for Business, into every student residence hall room and student apartment on campus.” It’s certainly not the first to adopt Amazon’s smart speakers, but it’s among the largest scale for this sort of deployment.
While the product has become a mainstay in plenty of American homes, it does seem like an odd choice dorms and student campus. SLU has worked with Alexa for Business to create 100 custom questions, including, “What time does the library close tonight?” and “Where is the registrar’s office?”
Then, of course, there are the privacy concerns of having little cloud connected recording devices populating the school’s living spaces. SLU is attempting to get out in front of that here. The company addressed those issues on a privacy page, writing,
Because of our use of the Amazon Alexa for Business (A4B) platform, your Echo Dot is managed by a central system dedicated to SLU. This system is not tied to individual accounts and does not maintain any personal information for any of our users, so all use currently is anonymous. Additionally, neither Alexa nor the Alexa for Business management system maintains recordings of any questions that are asked.
The school notes that students can also mute the microphone. Students can’t technically opt-out, but they can unplug the product and shove it in a drawer, turning it in at the end of the year. Just don’t use it as a hockey puck, because that’ll cost you.
There are so many deals on offer right now that it can be very, very difficult to keep up with what the retail world is offering, Amazon is a prime candidate if you can pardon the pun, for offering a great deal here and there and this is absolutely no …
There are so many deals on offer right now that it can be very, very difficult to keep up with what the retail world is offering, Amazon is a prime candidate if you can pardon the pun, for offering a great deal here and there and this is absolutely no exception to that rule.
It looks like Amazon may be gearing up to make more moves in the brick-and-mortar world. Bloomberg reports that the e-commerce behemoth is putting itself in the running to acquire Landmark Theatres, which claims to be the United States’ largest chain of movie theaters focused on art house (indie and foreign) movies, with a network of […]
It looks like Amazon may be gearing up to make more moves in the brick-and-mortar world. Bloomberg reports that the e-commerce behemoth is putting itself in the running to acquire Landmark Theatres, which claims to be the United States’ largest chain of movie theaters focused on art house (indie and foreign) movies, with a network of 56 cinemas, covering 268 screens in 27 markets.
Bloomberg’s sources say that Amazon is going up against other potential acquirers in purchasing the business from Wagner/Cuban Cos., but that no final decisions have been made.
The companies aren’t publicly commenting on the reports, but it’s an interesting scenario to consider because of all the ways that it seems to fit into Amazon’s wider strategy.
The company has done an incredible job of making it easy (and cheap) to buy virtually anything you want from it in the digital world, whether it’s necessities like toiletries, books, groceries, clothes and electronics, or digital products like movies, music and cloud storage space for your app or game, in as little as one click. Through its marketplace model — where it is both a middleman between consumers and sellers, and the seller itself of different goods and services — Amazon wants to be wherever people want to spend money.
But there are certain forms of retail that may never translate to the online world. Experiential retail — dining out at restaurants, going to a bar or event, picking a melon that you can smell before you pay for it, and of course going to the movies — requires that you get up and go somewhere to do it.
The latter of these is very instructive when you consider how a movie theater chain might fit into the Amazon pantheon. Amazon’s Prime Fresh grocery delivery service gives busy users the convenience of skipping the grocery store, but Whole Foods also gives Amazon a way of capturing buyers who might prefer to make trips to a grocery store.
But that’s not all it does. It’s added Whole Foods discounts as yet another sweetener for Prime subscribers; it’s extending its formidable logistics muscle to Whole Foods ordering and delivery (first for Prime subscribers, naturally); and of course it has put in pop-up shops selling its other products, like the Kindle and the Echo, in prime spots when you enter a store.
Amazon owning a chain of theatres spells out a lot of opportunities for it in terms of expanding its interests in film; in experiential, physical commerce; and in leveraging the rest of the pieces in its commercial empire.
The world of movie theaters has been hobbling for years, with droves of consumers these days foregoing increasingly expensive tickets and snacks and opting to watch a slightly smaller screen in the comfort of their own home. But to the disruptive eye, that ageing business model is catnip, and so unsurprisingly, MoviePass has come along, seeing that there was an opportunity to try to revive the cinema experience by offering subscriptions for a flat rate to get more bums on those seats.
Yes, MoviePass is bleeding money, and it looks like a mess for many other reasons, but it’s had an impact, so much so that AMC has taken notice and launched its own competitor.
The world’s largest theater chain almost certainly won’t experience the same sort of pains that MoviePass has, because it both controls the means of distribution and has a sizeable support infrastructure, and of course owns the cinemas.
But if AMC has a safety net, then Amazon — one of the world’s most valuable companies — has airbags, collision sensors, seatbelts, automatic braking and maybe even an Alexa-powered predictive voice to tell you what to do next. If Amazon ran a loss-making chain of cinemas, it would be but a little drop in the bucket for it.
Amazon already has one of the biggest digital subscription businesses in the world, with more than 100 million Prime members, as of April 2018. Tacking a subscription to cinemas on to that, which either made going free or discounted, is a no-brainer.
But wait! You get more for the price of the Landmark Theatres! Amazon, as we know, also has a budding media business, offering movies, TV and music to Prime users. Included in that is its own original content machine, Amazon Studios, responsible for shows like Transparent and movies like Manchester by the Sea.
A theater chain acquisition would further open the distribution channels for Amazon’s own films, and give Amazon a much tighter grip on the costs for that distribution. And with a position covering theatrical, DVD and digital distribution windows, you can bet that will give Amazon more leverage when negotiating screen rights to films that it hasn’t produced itself.
Controlling distribution could also prove useful during awards season — the timing of a film’s release goes a long ways toward determining nominees. (And yes, those screens also become one more place where Amazon can run ads, too, in its budding advertising empire.)
And don’t forget the fact that theatres are, at the end of the day, also retail real estate.
It’s a long-known fact that cinemas make most of their money on concessions, and they have accordingly built out large lobby areas where people can mill about and spend money before and after sitting down in the darkened screening rooms. In addition to selling all the usual concessions (both made by Amazon and its marketplace partners) Amazon could use those spaces as they have with Whole Foods, creating retail experiences for products that might have nothing at all to do with what you came to the cinema for in the first place, but then suddenly seem like interesting places to try out something new.
Is it any wonder that even without Amazon or Landmark responding to Bloomberg’s report, theater chain stocks dropped on word of the news?
When an opportunity to save some money presents itself, you grab it. With both hands. And as quickly as possible. That’s exactly what is being presented here with a couple of technology-based products. Both are from reputable manufacturers, both offer …
When an opportunity to save some money presents itself, you grab it. With both hands. And as quickly as possible. That's exactly what is being presented here with a couple of technology-based products. Both are from reputable manufacturers, both offer definite and immediate benefits, and both have impressive savings applied.
No surprise that smart speaker sales are on the rise. That certainly comports with recent numbers from NPD. The latest report from Canalys, however, pulls the camera back a bit to give a better picture of the global market. Seems that while smart speaker sales continue to be hot here in the States, they’re positively […]
No surprise that smart speaker sales are on the rise. That certainly comports with recent numbers from NPD. The latest report from Canalys, however, pulls the camera back a bit to give a better picture of the global market. Seems that while smart speaker sales continue to be hot here in the States, they’re positively on fire in China.
Global shipments increased by 187 percent year-over-year for a total of 16.8 million units. China accounted for 52-percent of the total growth worldwide, with Alibaba and Xiaomi accounting for 17.7 and 12.2 percent, respectively. The growth is large, in part, due to the fact that the category effectively didn’t exists a year ago.
Canalys’ Hattie He notes that a confluence of different elements have potentially put the country on track overtake the U.S.
“Alibaba and Xiaomi have both relied on aggressive price cuts to create demand,” He adds. “Both companies have the financial backing to spend on marketing and hardware subsidies in a bid to quickly build their user bases. Although the real level of user demand for speaker products is currently unproven, China is on its way to overtake the US in the near term. The challenge remains for local vendors to increase user stickiness and generate revenue from the growing installed base of smart speaker users.”
Also interesting is the fact that Google has maintained its top spot ahead of Amazon, with explosive growth year over year. Google’s up 449 percent to Amazon’s -14 — putting the two companies in first and second place, respectively. Of course, Amazon got a significant headset in the market, so Google has some ground to make up. Apple, meanwhile, failed to crack the top four.
Microsoft and Amazon announced that Cortana and Alexa would be able to summon each other last year but we’re now able to test the functionality for ourselves. [ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]
Microsoft and Amazon announced that Cortana and Alexa would be able to summon each other last year but we're now able to test the functionality for ourselves.
Amazon and Microsoft are working together to make their voice assistants, Alexa and Cortana, even better. A new collaboration between the two begins now.
Voice assistants like Siri and Google Assistant haven’t been created equal, with each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Amazon and Microsoft seemed to have recognized this when they announced a unique partnership last year that would combine the resources of Alexa and Cortana, respectively, across the two voice platforms. Nearly a year later, that collaboration is being put on display for the public for the first time, according to CNET.... Read the rest of this post here
Spotify’s lack of full lyrics support and its minimal attention to voice are beginning to become problems for the streaming service. The company has been so focused on the development of its personalization technology and programming its playlists, it has overlooked key features that its competitors – including Apple, Google, and Amazon – today offer […]
Spotify’s lack of full lyrics support and its minimal attention to voice are beginning to become problems for the streaming service. The company has been so focused on the development of its personalization technology and programming its playlists, it has overlooked key features that its competitors – including Apple, Google, and Amazon – today offer and are now capitalizing on.
For example, in the updated version of Apple Music rolling out this fall with iOS 12, users won’t just have access to lyrics in the app as before, they will also be able to perform searches by lyrics instead of only by the artist, album, or song title.
And Apple Music is actually playing catch up with Amazon on this front.
The company has been offering this capability for close to two years. While it had originally been one of Alexa’s hidden gems, today asking Alexa to pull up a song by its lyrics is considered a standard feature.
With the rise of voice-based computing, features like asking for songs with verbal commands or querying databases of lyrics by voice are now expected features.
And where’s Spotify on this?
It has launched lyrics search only in Japan so far, and refuses to provide a timeline as to when it will make this a priority in other markets. Even tucked away in the app’s code are references to lyrics tests only in the non-U.S. markets of Thailand and Vietnam.
Spotify is testing viewing lyrics within mobile app.
Those tests have been underway since the beginning of the year, we understand from sources. But the attention being given to these tests is minimal – Spotify isn’t measuring user engagement with the lyrics feature at this point. And Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wasn’t even aware his team was working on these lyrics tests, we heard, which implies a lack of management focus on this product.
Meanwhile, competitors like Apple and Amazon have dedicated lyrics teams.
We asked Spotify multiple times if it was currently testing lyrics in the U.S. (You can see one person who claims they gained access here, for example.) But the company never responded to our questions.
Some Spotify customers who largely listen to popular music may be confused about the lack of a full lyrics product in the app. That’s because Spotify partnered with Genius in 2016 to launch “Behind the Lyrics,” which offers lyrics and music trivia on a portion of its catalog. But you don’t see all the song’s lyrics when the music plays because they’re interrupted with facts and other background information about the song, the lyrics’ meaning, or the artist.
(The idea has been flagged “Watch this Space,” but it’s been tagged like that for so long it’s no longer a promise of something that’s soon to come.) There is no internal solution in the works, we understand, and it’s not working on a new deal with a third-party at this time.
The lack of lyrics is becoming a problem in other areas, as well, now that competitors are launching search-by-lyrics features that work via voice commands.
In fact, Spotify was late, in general, to address users’ interest in voice assistance – even though a primary use case for music listening is when you’re on the go – like, in the car, out walking or jogging, at the gym, biking, etc.
But the feature is still wonky. For one thing, hiding it away as a long press-triggered option means many users probably don’t know it exists. (And the floating button that pops up when you switch to search is hard to reach.) Secondly, it doesn’t address the primary reason users want to search by voice: hands-free listening.
Spotify can’t offer a native search-by-lyrics feature in its app, much less search-by-lyrics using voice commands option, because it doesn’t even have fully functional lyrics.
Voice and lyrics aren’t the only challenges Spotify is facing going forward.
Spotify also lacks dedicated hardware like its own Echo or HomePod. Given the rise of voice-based computing and voice assistants, the company has the potential to cede some portion of the market as consumers end up buying into the larger ecosystems provided by the main tech players: Siri/HomePod/Apple Music vs. Google Assistant/Google Home/Google Play Music (or YouTube Music) vs. Alexa/Echo/Amazon Music (all promoted by Prime).
Elsewhere, Spotify may play – even by voice – but won’t be as fully functional as the native solutions. With Spotify as the default service on Echo devices, for example, Alexa can’t always figure out commands that instruct it to play music by lyrics, activity, or mood – commands that work well with Amazon Music, of course.
Other cracks in Spotify’s dominance are starting to show, too.
Amazon Music has seen impressive growth, thanks to adoption in four key Prime markets, U.S., Japan, Germany and the U.K.. With now 12% of the music streaming market, it has become the dark horse that’s been largely ignored amid discussions of the Amazon vs Spotify battle. But it’s not necessarily one to count out just yet.
Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook just announced during the last earnings call that Apple Music has moved ahead of Spotify in North America. He also warned against ceding too much control to algorithms, in a recent interview, making a sensible argument for maintaining music’s “spiritual role” in our lives.
“We worry about the humanity being drained out of music, about it becoming a bits-and-bytes kind of world instead of the art and craft,” Cook mused.
Apple was late to music streaming, having been so tied to its download business. But it also had the luxury of time to get it right, knowing that its powerful iPhone platform means anything it launches has a built-in advantage. (And it’s poised to offer TV shows as a part of its subscription, too, which could be a further draw.)
How much time does Spotify have to get it right?
Despite these concerns, Spotify doesn’t need to panic yet – it still has more listeners, more paying customers, and more consumer mindshare in the music streaming business. It has its popular playlists and personalization features. It has its RapCaviar. But it will need to plug its holes to keep up where the market is heading, or risk losing customers to the larger platforms in the months ahead.
David Frankel Contributor David Frankel is a managing partner at Founder Collective. More posts by this contributor You earn a million dollars a year and can’t get funded? Dear auto entrepreneurs, please think outside the gearbox A top four tech company recently approached the CEO of one of our B2B portfolio companies with a tremendous […]
A top four tech company recently approached the CEO of one of our B2B portfolio companies with a tremendous offer. This company, with buy-in from its world-famous CEO, believes the startup’s core technology could help them catch up to a rival in an incredibly important space and wanted to discuss a $20M investment on extremely favorable terms. This partnership would allow the startup to grow 10X in a year and would provide invaluable validation.
The founder was elated. I was terrified. This kind of deal is a classic “whalehunt,” and most of the startups who engage in them are doomed to end up like Captain Ahab.
While it’s immensely gratifying to receive this kind of validation from a market leader, the startup is at an early and important developmental stage. I’ve seen many promising startups blown up by ill-advised business development deals that swelled teams in a bout of euphoria only to see them wither if interest and focus from their partner wanes.
In my experience, arrangements that pair a behemoth megacorp with a Seed/Series A stage startup have a success rate well below 50%. I didn’t tell the founder to decline the offer outright, but I did suggest that the management team consider a few questions before pursuing it.
How much MRR will it add to your business? The project with the large company is in line with the startup’s long-term vision, but it’s a departure from their current focus. A $20M investment is very nice indeed, but once that money is spent, what will the ongoing revenue be? And what is the opportunity cost of not supporting the current business plan? What discount rate will you apply to compensate for the small probability of this deal working out? My advice was that if he couldn’t satisfactorily answer those questions, it was probably the right move to turn the deal down. Even if the deal was structured as $20M in revenue rather than equity I’d hesitate.
How, in detail, will this project help your core business? There’s an argument for entering into an agreement like this even if the immediate revenue contribution is low. If the project will allow the startup to speed up the development of a core technology that is generally applicable to other customers, it would seem far more worthy of consideration but beware our human ability to rationalize (first and foremost to ourselves).
These projects more often end up as bespoke development engagements where despite the initial intention, the startup is producing a custom application for the big co. Founders will rationalize the deviations from their product roadmap, but ultimately sell out their future for a long-shot opportunity to integrate with a worldwide leader.
My advice is to not think magically about product/market fit, and instead, to try pre-selling it to other customers as a form of market development. If you can sell the product, great! If not, you’re probably using venture capital to subsidize the R&D budget of a company worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
What happens if this doesn’t work out? It’s easy to visualize success, but what happens if the deal doesn’t lead anywhere? In this scenario, imagine the big tech company decides to change its priorities and abandons the initiative. SaaS startups face a similar failure mode when they go to great lengths to impress big companies during pilot programs only to see their project die due to lack of interest. When considering a high-risk, high-reward partnership, founders need to spend time envisioning a gruesome demise.
● What will your pitch be for a bridge round of financing when you have no revenue, you just came up short during a prolonged engagement with the best possible customer in your industry?
● How will you reassure your most talented team members that you know what you’re doing when the deal fails, and capital is running short?
● How quickly can you reorient the company to focus on other customers and how quickly will you start generating revenue from them?
When I started an ISP in South Africa in the 1990s, I had the chance to pitch the executive team at the country’s equivalent to Walmart . We were talking about the upcoming Olympic Games, which they were sponsoring. I asked if they were bringing their biggest customers to the events. One of the VPs looked at me, bewildered, and said: “Your mother may well be our biggest customer.”
I instantly realized they didn’t have big customers; they were a big customer. Their suppliers took them to the Games and fancy dinners. I felt silly at the moment but learned a valuable lesson about B2B power dynamics. Here are some other dynamics to be cautious of:
Are You Aware of the Work Pace Differential?
Startups measure their survival quarter to quarter while big companies plan in five-year increments. It’s often shocking how slowly big company partners move on everything from email to product roll-outs. Decisions made by gut feel at startups have to navigate a maze of meetings and committees at a big company. Startups often drown in the number of process leviathans require to make the smallest of improvements.
Who are the Internal Champions?
Promising projects can die on the vine because the internal champion gets reassigned or leaves the company. Successful partnerships will involve multiple high-level people from the larger organization. They also typically involve the startup being paid a fair market rate or are paired with a strategic investment to help defray the burden of non-recurring expenses. If not, beware.
Most sponsors will say their project is critical to the company, but it’s the startups CEO’s job to check that out. Founders should reference the opportunity in the same way they would reference an investor. This kind of deal is often an all or nothing bet on your company, don’t make it too blithely.
Is the Project a Priority for the CXO/VP?
Partnerships between startups and big companies work best when it solves the problem of a VP or CXO level executive. Below that level, we’ve seen startups spend large sums and risk their future on what amounts to a proof of concept project for a mid-level director with no real juice.
This is especially common with startups who sell to retailers. Theoretically, the brick and mortar shops need a bulwark against Amazon, but in reality, we’ve seen many of them default to more focused on protecting their physical retail turf rather than truly investing in online sales. They’ll run pilots to assure investors that they have their eye on the future when in reality the efforts are more PR than a business plan.
Do you Understand Big Company Logic?
A $20M investment to a small startup is a massive deal. For a big company, it’s essentially the size of an acquihire and can be shut down with no repercussions. In the context of a half-billion dollar company, $20M bets actually fail far more than a startup may appreciate.
Are you competing with another startup?
Is this project a “bake-off” where multiple companies are competing? The most dangerous kind of whalehunting is when a startup is competing with one or more competitors to win a large book of business. Founders considering this kind of arrangement should give serious thought to skipping the process and building out a less concentrated revenue base with fewer impediments while your competitors fight to the death.
Do you have a deep bench of vetted candidates ready to be hired? Founders often underestimate the challenge of growing 3-5X in short order. Every successful startup has to do this, but it usually happens more organically over time. The kind of business development deal our portfolio CEO is considering will change the company overnight.
Entrepreneurs need to ask if they have a long list of former co-workers, peers, vetted candidates eager to join their company? If not, massively scaling the company to meet the demands of a major partner will likely lead to sub-par hires to fill an urgent need while slowly poisoning the company’s culture. Money is rarely the most challenging part of hiring. Hiring fast when you control your destiny is hard enough, doing so in an uncertain arrangement can be very detrimental.
Beyond hiring, it’s important to view a partnership through the lens of Activity Based Costing.
How much time will this take up? 50%? 80%? More? Will you have to drop existing customers or products to make the project work? Are you still able to grow the business outside of this partnership or is it genuinely all-consuming?
Are You Ready for the Hunt?
If you can answer these questions confidently, then you may be ready to go whalehunting. When these projects work, they can be the first domino in a cascade that leads to growth and good places. More often, it results in a startup spending a year and a large chunk of its capital on a high-risk business development deal that more often fails to pan out. Chart your course accordingly.