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New Media News Break: SpAmazon, Google’s Brand Activate, CISPA, and More


It’s Wednesday, so it’s time for a little New Media News Break to help get you through the work week. Here are the interesting stories you may have missed since last Wednesday’s break!

Fortune Highlights “Spamazon” Problem

This issue has been going on for longer than a week, but on Monday, Fortune’s Stephen Gandel called attention to this problem, causing outcry among self-publishers and consumers who had no idea that so many authors were spamming Amazon with self-published titles meant to lure in and trick people who mean to buy big-name bestsellers. For example, if you’re looking for the steamy best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey, you might mistakenly purchase Thirty-Five Shades of Grey, by an author with a similar name. Or if you’re hoping to pick up the popular Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, you might mistakenly buy Isaac Worthington’s self-published Steve Jobs book. There are various other examples, and although Amazon has said it will crack down on the problem, there isn’t a simple solution, as it requires a reworking of the company’s self-publishing system, as well as brings about debates on what is and is not legally allowed (remember, one can’t copyright an idea).

The White House Criticizes CISPA

A recent bill introduced called Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act has gotten the thumbs down from the White House, at least according to National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. On Tuesday, she was quoted as saying that any cyber security bill that passes should also protect users’ privacy, a sentiment that has many people on the Internet breathing a sigh of release. While CISPA does allow businesses and the government to more easily share information about cyber security threats, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Technology and Progress argue that it also justifies spying on individuals’ emails and social media accounts. So, understandably, many people (myself included) are happy that the White House is criticizing this bill!

Listen Button Now Available for Facebook Pages

Artists with Facebook fan pages now have a new way to share their musical content – a listen button. Located on an artist’s page next to “message” button, when fans click this button, it will take them directly to Spotify, MOG, or other connected services to hear music from the artist without ever leaving Facebook.When a user does this, his or her listening activity will also appear in their own timeline. It’s a very interesting concept, and one that I think could (and should) expand to podcasters who have fan pages in the future. Love it or hate it, Facebook is a powerful way to connect with fans.

instagram facebook Facebook Board Kept in the Dark about Instagram Purchase

Speaking of Facebook, we’re still hearing a lot of news about the recent Instragram purchase. And Facebook’s board might be feeling a little upset right now with the acquisition – not because they necessarily think it was a bad decision, but because they weren’t consulted about it at all. According to reports, Mark Zuckerberg made the deal alone, only telling the board of his plans hours before the deal was finalized. The deal was made rather quickly, over the course of just a few days, which is unusual for such a large purchase in the business board, but that doesn’t really excuse the fact that the board wasn’t part of the proceedings. They did have to eventually vote on it (and obviously, they voted yes), but sources told the Wall Street Journal that the vote was “largely symbolic.” Given his track record, is anyone really surprised that Zuckerberg would make the choice to plow ahead with what he wanted to do rather than talk to his board about the option? It will be interesting to see if there is any fallout over this decision.

Twitter Announces New Patent Pledge

Patents allow companies to protect their innovations and designs, but some feel that it’s being taken too far, with companies constantly suing one another over ideas that haven’t even been implemented or making other ridiculous claims. This week, Twitter announced a new pledge where patent control is places back into the hands of the employee who invented it. While some say that this new “Innovator’s Patent Agreement” might be more about good PR than about actually reforming the world of patent-related lawsuits, it is an interesting concept, especially for creators working under employers. Will other web companies follow suit? That’s yet to be seen.

Google Plans New Online Advertising Metrics

In a new proposal, which has been submitted for review by the Media Rating Council, Google is introducing new ideas about online advertising metrics that they hope will become industry standards. Meant to put companies at ease when purchasing advertising online, these new standards are dubbed Brand Activate and will start with two components: Active View and Active GRP. Active View changes how online ad impressions are counted while Active GRP will calculate the reach and frequency of an ad campaign in real time. If you’re a content creator who makes money through advertising (especially using Google Ads), this is a story you want to watch.

In Case You Missed It

Here’s what you might have missed on the BlogWorld blog in the past week:

Awesome from the Archives

There are some golden posts in the post hidden in the BlogWorld archives. Here are three of my favorites that I think you should check out:

Check back every Wednesday for a New Media News Break just when you need it!

New Media News Break: Bald Barbies, Instagram on Android, Google Glasses, and More


Welcome to your Wednesday afternoon break from work. Here are some new media stories in the news that you may have missed since our last New Media News Break:

Mattel Responds to Facebook Fans and Creates a Bald Barbie

Facebook fans took to the virtual streets recently, campaigning for Barbie manufacturer Mattel to produce a new doll – one without hair. The bald beauty would be for kids who have cancer, since children in the hospital often feel self-conscious about their hair loss. Mattel responded to the campaigning, announcing a new doll that won’t be sold in stores, but that will be distributed to children’s hospitals in the United States and Canada. They say they won’t be selling the dolls, which come with hats, scarves, and wigs that can be interchanged, because they don’t want to profit from the project. Personally, I’d like to see them also sell the dolls with proceeds going toward cancer research, since other little girls might want a bald friend as well or cancer patients might want more than one doll. But it’s a great story about a company listening to their fans and doing the right thing despite it costing the company money.

Instagram Comes to Android

In a long-waited move, Instagram finally came to Android this week, allowing millions of new users to download this photo-sharing app. Over a million people downloaded it the first day alone. Instagram for Android has most of the same features that current Instagram users have been enjoying since 2010, and already I’ve been seeing a flood of new pictures in my social streams. For picture-based content creators, this is definitely a win! Right now, you can download the new Instagram app on your Android smartphone (tablets are not yet supported), and users join the same community when they register in order to share pictures with friends.

Jeremy Lin Chats on Facebook After Surgery

It’s important to connect with fan, but basketball star Jeremy Lin took it to the next level this week when he held a Facebook chat just a few hours after his knee surgery. He may have had to take a break in the middle of it to toss his cookies (seriously), but thousands of fans “tuned in” to talk to the player and ask questions. He also announced during the chat that he’d be posting YouTube videos throughout his recovery so fans can stay up-to-date with what’s going on. Now that’s a humbling lesson for us all – if Jeremy Lin can post updates while he’s still in the hospital, we’re not too busy to post updates for our fans as well!

Google Starts Testing New SmartPhone Glasses

Google employees are starting tests on the latest “smart” device. Instead of a phone or tablet, though, what Google is testing is something you can wear – glasses. They recorded some videos to get early fan feedback, and already the web is buzzing with possibilities and potential pitfalls. It’s definitely an interesting concept, and one that highlights just how important it is for use content creators to make our blog posts, videos, podcasts, photographs, etc. available using smart devices. Luckily, development is happening on that front with companies like Yapp making it easier for people who have little technical knowledge create their very own apps. It’s easy to get stuck in our ways, but if we don’t evolves and go where our fans are, we’ll be missing out on traffic and sales opportunities.

“Amazon Law” Revoked in Colorado

Over the past few years, Amazon has been dumping affiliates in some states because of new laws surrounding taxation of Amazon’s products. In Colorado, however, the “Amazon Law” has been officially revoked by a federal court. This bodes well for bloggers and other users who want to get back into the Amazon affiliate game, but who live in a state where tax laws are currently preventing it. More than 25,000 affiliates found themselves out in the cold due to these tax laws, so it will be interesting to see if affiliates, many of whom were mad not just at their states but also at Amazon, start linking to the online retailer once again. Grudges sometimes die hard.

Facebook Aims to Get in the Search Game

Google might want to get a little worried – according to reports, Facebook is getting into the search game, or at least exploring this option. former Google employee Lars Rasmussen is heading up the development project with Facebook, which some speculate would be a major blow to Google+. It’s not all bad news for Google, though. The company actually wants competitors and is being vocal about it, since the EU is currently in the middle of an antitrust investigation, with critics saying that Google abuses its power in the search market to direct users to its own brand and decrease competitor viability.

In Case You Missed It

Here’s what you might have missed on the BlogWorld blog in the past week:

Awesome from the Archives

There are some golden posts in the post hidden in the BlogWorld archives. Here are three of my favorites that I think you should check out:

Check back every Wednesday for a New Media News Break just when you need it!

Interview: Getting Free Review Products from Amazon with Thomas Duff


Product reviews increase the value of your blog, podcast, or show, since you’re giving fans a look at products they may be interested in purchasing. However, buying all of those items yourself can be pricey, especially if you work in a niche like technology, where each item costs hundreds of dollars.

Lots of people in our community work with brands to provide reviews, but did you know that you can actually get free items directly from Amazon? The Amazon Vine program pairs content creators with writers and manufacturers who want their products reviewed. As a Vine reviewer, you get free items which you’re obligated to review on Amazon and can also review on your on blog/podcast – but becoming part of this program can be a little tricky. Today, I sat down with Thomas Duffbert, who’s a reviewer with Amazon Vine, to learn more.

Allison: For people who don’t know, can you give us a little info as to what the Amazon Vine program is?

Tom: The Amazon Vine program is a formal reviewer program that Amazon developed to allow manufacturers and publishers to get their products in front of people who try out the item and post a review on the Amazon website.  Those reviews then show up on the product page, along with any other reviews that people may have posted.

The main difference between the Vine program and people posting their own reviews is that the manufacturer can get a set number of items in front of people who have committed to try the product and write a coherent review.  There’s no expectation that the review will be positive, and in fact Vine reviewers tend to be much more honest in their opinions because they’ve committed to give the product a chance.

How did you get started reviewing for Amazon?

The Amazon reviews grew out of technical user group programs run by technical publishers. They’d send me a book (free!) and I’d write a review of it for a user group I was part of.  I was then asked if I minded also posting the review on Amazon. I thought it only fair since they sent me the book at no cost.

From there, my reviewing sort of took on a life of its own, and I started climbing up the ranks of the Amazon reviewers. Depending on whether you’re referring to the new or “classic” ranking system, I’ve been as high as #20.  Once you get a top 100 ranking, people start contacting you asking if you’ll review their book.  I’ve gotten to the point where I have to say no to a majority of the requests, as I know I’ll never be able to read everything I’ve received.

How often do you get items for review and what types of items do you receive?

The Amazon Vine program sends out a “targeted” newsletter on the third Thursday of the month and a general newsletter the last Thursday.  The targeted newsletter is generally made up of seven to ten items, and you’re allowed to select up to two.  I’m not sure what they use for their targeting algorithm, but it needs some work. Offering me baby supplies is a bit useless when I’m 50 and my kids are 25 and 23.

The general newsletter is made up of all the items for the month that still remain in the system after the reviewers selected items from the targeted newsletters.  That list is generally around 14 – 18 pages of ten or so items per page.  Again, you can choose another two items based on what’s still available.

The offerings are all over the board in terms of what shows up.  It used to be primarily books, and books still occupy well over half the items each month. But there are also treasures like multi-function printers, food selections, children’s toys, appliances, cooking utensils, tech gear (like headphones and iPad covers), and countless other items.  Some of the items aren’t just things that will appear in a FedEx box, either.  For instance, last month there were three full-sized refrigerators being offered.

I’ve read that part of getting chosen for the Vine program is not just ensuring you write reviews, but also having reviews posted that are deemed “helpful” by other Amazon users. What are some of your best tips for writing helpful reviews?

There are two things I keep in mind when I’m writing a book review, and I think they are essential in terms of keeping yourself in the right frame of mind.

First, remember that there’s a real person behind what you’re reading.  Writing is not easy, and the author poured themselves into what you hold in your hands. That doesn’t mean you have to love everything you read, but it does mean that a review of “this book sucks” with no reasons why is not permissible.

Second, understand that you may not be the target audience.  I always read the preface of a book to determine what the author(s) is trying to accomplish. The content may be over my head, but if I feel they did what they set out to do, then it should get a good review.

It sounds like a great way to build your blog’s content with product reviews – but also a lot of work. Do you think the free stuff is worth the time you spend reviewing products?

This is a pretty common question… why do you review stuff? The most obvious answer is you get free items, which is always fun.

The more important reason to me is that writing reviews has (I hope) made me a better writer.  I’ve co-authored two books, as well as written countless tech articles over the last nine years.  My reviews and blogging didn’t necessarily lead to all the other writing, but it’s good practice and discipline to keep writing on a regular basis.

If at any point I felt the work I put into it was more than what I get out of it, I’d stop.  But I haven’t hit that point yet, so I continue on.  I get books to read and toys to play with, I improve my writing skills, and the author/manufacturer gets feedback.  So far we’re all happy…

Thanks, Tom, for all of the great information on Amazon’s review program! Readers, anyone out there also a Vine reviewer and want to share your experiences? Does reviewing with Amazon sound like a good idea to you? Leave a comment below!

Thomas Duff (also known as “Duffbert”) is a software developer focusing on collaboration technologies in Portland Oregon. He started working with Lotus Notes in 1996 in version R3 and has written and maintained hundreds of applications in large enterprises through the years. He also holds Lotus principal development certifications starting at version 4 and going up to version 8, as well as Microsoft and Java certifications. Tom is a prolific writer, both in various industry publications and at his website, Duffbert’s Random Musings, at http://www.duffbert.com. He also is a frequent speaker at conferences and events focusing on Lotus technologies. Tom and Marie Scott coauthored IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User’s Guide (Packt Press, 2010). He also coauthored IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide (Packt Press, 2011) with Marie Scott and Gabriella Davis.

AmazonLocal Arrives on the Kindle


Back in June (around the same time they dropped California Amazon affiliates) Amazon announced they were joining the Daily Deals arena with AmazonLocal. The service was initially launched for people in Boise, Idaho, but has since opened up to several more states, with more to come soon.

Amazon announced they’re bringing their daily deals to the Kindle, beginning with New York deals and expanding to more cities in 2012.

Some of the deals for the New York areas of Downtown, Midtown, Uptown (including the Upper East Side and Upper West Side) and Brooklyn will include:

  • $7 for a one-hour bike rental in Central Park ($15 value)
  • $5 for $10 at Dangerfield’s Comedy club
  • $59 for one month unlimited yoga classes at Bikram Yoga Grand Central ($180 value)
  • $5 for $10 worth of ice cream and ice cream cakes at Coldstone Creamery

Users can purchase a deal directly from their Kindle without having to enter payment information. Once you purchase the deal, it’s delivered to your Kindle device. To redeem your voucher, just show the merchant your Kindle with the offer.

I imagine Amazon will carry this over to their rumored tablet.

Do you think this will increase sales among the Kindle? For those of you who own a Kindle, what are your thoughts on the new service?

Amazon in Talks to Launch a Netflix-Like Service for Books


There aren’t a lot of details yet, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Amazon is in talks to launch a Netflix-like service for digital books.

The source says that for a fixed monthly fee, users would have access to an online library of books. They also report that the service would be available for Amazon Prime members (who pay $79 a year for perks like free shipping and access to online TV shows and movies).

Now before those of you who like to read the latest New York Times bestseller get too excited, the books would mainly be older works and there would be monthly restrictions on how many you would have access to.

As you might have expected, some publishers are not happy about this idea and feel it would “downgrade the value of the book business”. So, have any publishers signed on? No one knows yet but I’ll keep an eye out for any new developments.

What do you think about this service – a good or bad idea?

The 7-Inch Amazon Kindle Tablet to Sell for $250


According to a recent report, the Amazon tablet that is rumored to be releasing in October is real. One TechCrunch writer has seen it and played with it.

He said it’s simply being called the “Amazon Kindle”, has full color content, a 7-inch capacitive touch screen and will run Android.

As for the October release, MG Siegler said it will actually be released in November. He also mentioned that this new Amazon tablet is a big deal and has huge potential.

So, everyone wants to know – where are the pictures?! Sadly, he has none, but he does have a description.

So instead you’ll have to rely on my prose to draw a picture of the device in your head. Or you can just look at a BlackBerry PlayBook — because it looks very similar in terms of form-factor.

He goes on to talk about the touch screen capabilities, the 7-inch screen and of course the cost – which completely shocked me. Amazon will sell their tablet for only $250, making it more attainable for everyone.

Siegler goes into much more detail about the Amazon tablet, all which is very interesting. It does run Android, but no Android you and I have ever seen before. He says, “This is Android fully forked. My understanding is that the Kindle OS was built on top of some version of Android prior to 2.2.”

So tell us – will the Amazon Kindle Tablet make it on your Holiday wish list this year? I want to see pictures and hear more about the features before I send my letter off to Mr. Claus. I do have a feeling this tablet will be one heck of a big seller for Amazon.

Does Amazon’s “Free App of the Day” Hurt Developers?


There’s quite an interesting story circulating on several different blogs regarding Amazon‘s Android app store. I am sure you’ve seen their “Free app of the day” and probably, like myself, have taken advantage of it. A free app? Sweet!

The problem with the free app, is that it may actually be hurting the developers of the apps. It all started when ShiftyJelly had one of their apps featured as Amazon’s Free App of the day and as Gizmodo says, the developer thought they had hit the jackpot. The jackpot ended up being a big fat zero when they found out developers do not receive a single cent from the free app of the day promotion.

Here’s the email ShiftJelly received before their app was featured:

As you may already know, the Free App of the Day offer placement is one of the most visible and valuable spaces on the Amazon Appstore. We would like to include your app “[name removed]” in our Free App of the Day calendar. We have seen tremendous results from this promotion spot and believe it will bring you a great deal of positive reviews and traffic. It is an opportunity to build your brand especially in association with a brand like Amazon’s. The current price of this placement is at 0% rev share for that one day you are placed.

The results ended up being that they “sold” over 100,000 apps that day and they received nothing. You might ask if at least being featured helped their sales the next day and maybe even the next? The answer – nope. They said that “the day after saw a blip in sales, followed by things going back to exactly where we started, selling a few apps a day.”

ShiftJelly ended up removing their app from Amazon’s app store. You can read their entire story here.

What do you think? Does Amazon’s free app feature benefit only Amazon and the customer, while leaving the developers short-handed?



Amazon Sales Up, Plus CFO Comments on Sales Tax Issue


Amazon posted its financial results for the second quarter in 2011 today. The big news? Their sales reached $9.91 billion, which is a 51% increase from last year’s same period. I am sure this news makes some Californians cringe after the announcement by Amazon that they were pulling the plug on their affiliates.

The report did include a few details about the Kindle, saying that the sales were up compared to the first quarter 2011.

It was also revealed in a conference call today, that Amazon has built 15 fulfillment centers in 2011 and they plan to build a few more by the end of this year. That brings the total to 65 fulfillment centers across the globe. These centers enable the company, as well as third-party merchants to store inventory and fulfill orders.

Amazon is obviously growing and investing in their business. If only they could work out something with the affiliates they have dropped because of the Internet sales tax law. During the conference call, CFO Tom Szkutak was asked about the tax law issue.

His response was, “You know, I think in terms of the sales tax issue in total, the way you should think about it is we support a federal simplified approach as we have for more than 10 years. We think in the U.S. that the federal solution’s right way to solve this. Also keep in mind as you think about our global business, we already collect sales tax equivalent in … approximately half of our business across the world and, again, we think the right solution to the U.S. is a federal solution.”

When asked if there were any plans to cut more affiliates, he said he couldn’t really comment.

For those of you who were cut from the Amazon affiliate program in June, what steps have you taken to work towards regaining that income?

Overstock Joins Amazon in Pulling California Affiliate Programs


Overstock.com has joined Amazon in the mass exodus to drop California affiliates and avoid charging sales tax to consumers in that state – all as a result of a new Internet state tax law. Who will be next? And what will happen to California bloggers, podcasters, and other sites who rely on this revenue as income?

While a huge majority the 25,000 affiliates won’t, or can’t afford to, up and leave the state – many will have no choice, especially those with a larger amount of employees.

“This law won’t impact Amazon that much but it is a crisis for website owners who make revenue by placing ads on their websites for thousands of online retailers,” says Rebecca Madigan, executive director of the Performance Marketing Association.

Experts say it could impact 20-30% of small business website revenue – but I think it depends on the industry and blog. Some websites will see their income slashed completely, while others won’t even see a bump. Review sites rely heavily on their affiliate advertising, while entertainment blogs rely mostly on advertising sales and Google Adsense.

And who knows if it will actually help the state of CA? Proponents of the tax claim the new law will raise $317 million in revenue a year. But other states have seen quite the opposite. Those that have implemented similar tax bills have seen the entire thing backfire, says John Henchman of the Tax Foundation. In fact, Rhode Island officials reported that their overall tax collections fell when the affiliate contracts were terminated.

How is this new law impacting you? Do you live in a state with a similar Internet sales tax law? Are you concerned that your state may implement it next?

Image Source: SXC

Amazon Warns CA Affiliates – It May Pull the Plug on Their Accounts


Well, I got a nice email in my inbox this afternoon from Amazon, saying that they will have terminate my affiliate account if the new sales tax measure passes in California. Yes, I am set to lose a huge monetization strategy for some of my blogs because I live in sunny Southern Cali. *sighs*

This isn’t the first time Amazon has had to cut out affiliate programs in states. They’ve already shut down those residing in Illinois, Hawaii, Connecticut and North Carolina because they passed legislature similar to California.

The legislature involves a sales tax measure that will ultimately treat Amazon Affiliates the same as retailers with brick and mortar stores – thus requiring them to pay a sales tax.

The email read as follows:

For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with thousands of California residents. Unfortunately, a potential new law that may be signed by Governor Brown compels us to terminate this program for California-based participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers – including but not limited to those referred by California-based marketing affiliates like you – even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.

We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that we must take this action.

As a result, we will terminate contracts with all California residents that are participants in the Amazon Associates Program as of the date (if any) that the California law becomes effective. We will send a follow-up notice to you confirming the termination date if the California law is enacted. In the event that the California law does not become effective before September 30, 2011, we withdraw this notice. As of the termination date, California residents will no longer receive advertising fees for sales referred to Amazon.com, Endless.com, MYHABIT.COM or SmallParts.com. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned on or before the termination date will be processed and paid in full in accordance with the regular payment schedule.

You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of California. If you are not currently a resident of California, or if you are relocating to another state in the near future, you can manage the details of your Associates account here. And if you relocate to another state in the near future please contact us for reinstatement into the Amazon Associates Program.

To avoid confusion, we would like to clarify that this development will only impact our ability to offer the Associates Program to California residents and will not affect their ability to purchase from Amazon.com, Endless.com, MYHABIT.COM or SmallParts.com.

We have enjoyed working with you and other California-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program and, if this situation is rectified, would very much welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to California residents. We are also working on alternative ways to help California residents monetize their websites and we will be sure to contact you when these become available.


The Amazon Associates Team

I’m still kind of shaking my head. And looking for ways to get involved. Have sales tax laws impacted you in any way?

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