TIME Companies

Amazon’s Dispute With Hachette Might Finally Be Hurting Its Sales

The book industry nurtured Amazon's growth. Now the online retailer's war against publishers is a thorn in its side

The book business launched Amazon to success, and now it’s hurting the online retailer’s growth.

Amazon announced its worst quarterly loss in 14 years Thursday, losing $437 million in three months. One of its worst-performing segments? Amazon’s old core business: North American book, movie and music sales. The segment’s sales increased a mere 4.8% from 2013, the slowest growth for the category in more than five years. That compares with a 17.8% growth in that segment a year ago.

Amazon chalked up the slow media segment growth to fewer students buying textbooks, but that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. In fact, the company’s woes may in part be related to its damaging publicity spat with the publisher Hachette.

Here’s a quick recap of what happened: earlier this year, Amazon demanded Hachette give up a larger cut of its book sales; Hachette demurred. Amazon then increased shipping times on Hachette books, raised Hachette book prices, and redirected customers to other publishers on its website. Hachette, determined to hold its ground, rallied authors to its side. In August, 900 authors, including Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, John Grisham and James Patterson, signed a letter to Amazon defending Hachette, accusing Hachette of “selective retaliation” against writers.

There isn’t much visibility into what’s going behind closed doors and in sealed accounting documents at Amazon, but by targeting Hachette, Amazon is making it harder to buy the retailer’s own books. A customer deterred by an artificially long shipping time on a Hachette book is a sale lost. For a huge company like Amazon, that may be little more than a self-inflicted scratch, but it’s likely making difference.

And more importantly for the online retailer over the long term, the dispute may be hurting Amazon’s image and turning customers away. For book readers who love particular authors, it’s hard to forget when a bookstore is accused of having “directly targeted” a favorite writer. A literary-inclined crowd, already more likely to side with the letters people than the money people, may see the Hachette dispute as a turning point. “It’s logical that readers identify more with authors than with Amazon,” says Colin Gillis of BGC Financial. “Amazon is a service. You may like the service but you build a relationship with authors.” If book lovers ultimately decide that Amazon is bad for authors, Amazon could lose its hold on the very business that nurtured its growth.

 

 

TIME society

Inside the Weird World of Sexy Halloween Costumes for Dogs

And you thought sexy human costumes were strange

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Ye olde “hot” dog costume Getty images

The era of a “hot” dog costume consisting of a dachshund wrapped up in a bun is over. Welcome to an age in which people dress up their pets in sexy Halloween costumes.

For Pumpkin, a Labradoodle, his risqué 2013 ensemble came complete with fake human cleavage.

Pumpkin the dog flaunting his sexy Snooki Halloween costume Michelle Husserl

A Snooki costume might seem blasé for a person, but the tightly fitted leopard print top secured Pumpkin the first place prize for “most creative costume” at a local London pub, according to owner Michelle Husserl. “I didn’t think about it being sexy, more funny if anything, but I guess sexy costumes [for dogs] are the way forward!” she says. “He’s used to being dressed up since he was a puppy, but the cleavage he kept clawing at. He was very confused about it.”

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend $350 million on their pets’ Halloween costumes in 2014, which is up from $220 million in 2010. Unfortunately the NRF doesn’t calculate how many of those pet costumes show a little extra leg.

“I don’ think we have any plans to go that specific,” says NRF senior director Kathy Grannis. “I’ll be honest, I had no idea that that existed in this world. I was shocked.”

But, as Grannis notes, there is a person-to-pet consumer trickle-down effect, providing pups with blueberry facials and other human-only luxuries. So, considering the sexy Halloween costume complex has mostly jumped the shark — there are actual sexy shark, crustacean and even whale costumes — maybe it was only a matter of time until dogs got their sexy Halloween costumes, too.

“[Our sexy] pet costumes are just an extension of what the consumer was already doing on social networks, we saw that gap, and we jumped on it,” says Alicia Brockwell of California Costume, the manufacturer of Pumpkin the Labradoodle’s Snooki outfit.

“The costume is actually called ‘The Lady is a Tramp,’ and people really love putting that on a pitbull,” she says. “One thing about the sexy costumes, is that people love putting them on the most rugged, tough dogs.”

Dog Costumes
“Pop Queen” California Costumes

California Costume’s Pup-A-Razzi line has other sexy offerings, including a gold-cone bra called the”Pop Queen” (just think Madonna) and a “Silver Screen Siren” (Marilyn Monroe).

“It’s no secret that sex sells and Hollywood is the capital of plastic surgery so it made sense to include those features where we could,” vice president of marketing and design Christopher Guzman says. “Why not give your pet what he or she has secretly been craving, at least temporarily, fake boobies!”

Costumes that feature fake cleavage come in four different sizes, ranging from extra small to large.

“The hardest part about the breastplate is maintaining the integrity of it when shipping,” Brockewell says. “So we have little tutorials and give product training where if you take a warm hairdryer, it can actually warm it up and get it to the right roundness and buoyancy as needed. Because it is a soft material so it can sit comfortably on the dog.”

Brockwell believes that the company manages to be ridiculous without crossing the line to insulting: “No one looks at it and says ‘oh I can’t believe you’re degrading this dog’s honor!'”

Grannis, of the National Retail Federation, agrees.

“Halloween is a holiday based on discretionary fun,” she says. “If there are a lot of creative people out there who think that Fido and Fluffy would look great as a sexy maid, you know, God bless ‘em for it.”

And they do:

Even Walmart stocks French Maid costumes for dogs.

Garrett Rosso, founder of New York City’s 24-year-old Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade, has seen the full evolution of the sexy dog costume. The 1990’s were a simpler time. “It was all about the three M’s: Marilyn, Marlene and Madonna — oh and maybe a Chip ‘n Dale,” he says. In the last decade, however, people have upped their game.

“We had a bull dog dressed up as Katy Perry with boobs and a wig — it was a little startling,” says Rosso, who was a TIME design director before opening dog obedience training facilities. “Last year, I saw a Great Dane as Lady Gaga doing the twerking dance and a whole convention of 50 Shades of Grey.”

Matching owner/pet companion costumes are a big hit. He has seen dressed dogs in thousands of dollars worth of leather clothing, made to match their owner.

“Dogs have kind of become our giant companions, our best friends, our entrée into a healthier lifestyle,” Rosso says. “And I think Halloween is just a day when you can show off your best friend.”

And who doesn’t love a best friend who knows how to show some leg? All four of them.

Read next: 2014 Could Be the Year of the ‘Sexy Lobster’ Halloween Costume

TIME Smartphones

4 Reasons Amazon’s Fire Phone Was a Flop

German Launch For Amazon's Fire Smartphone
A man holds the new Fire smartphone by Amazon.com Inc. during demonstration at a a news conference in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon still has $83 million worth of unsold units

Amazon’s ongoing expansion into more and more product categories has finally hit a big speed bump. The Fire Phone, Amazon’s recently launched smartphone, was supposed to compete with high-end devices like Apple’s iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy. But consumers apparently didn’t bite—Amazon was forced to take a $170 million writedown charge on costs related to the device, it was revealed Thursday. Meanwhile, the company reportedly has $83 million worth of unsold Fire Phones still in its inventory.

While CEO Jeff Bezos is likely surprised that the Fire Phone hasn’t flown off Amazon’s virtual shelves, the device’s lack of appeal was obvious to many outside observers. Here are four reasons Amazon’s Fire Phone was doomed from the start:

Too Expensive

Amazon has a history of undercutting competitors on everything from tablets to balsamic vinegar. So it came as somewhat of a surprise when the Fire Phone launched at $199 with a two-year wireless contract, essentially the same price as the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. The high price didn’t help incentivize iPhone and Galaxy owners to abandon their devices, which is what Amazon needed to happen for the Fire Phone to gain quick traction. The company saw the error of its ways relatively quickly and dropped the phone’s price to 99 cents in September, but that hasn’t been enough to turn things around.

Small App Store

Though Amazon’s devices run on Android, they use a proprietary app store tailor-made for the company’s phones and tablets. That means developers have to make different versions of their apps specifically for the Fire Phone and Kindle Fire, and many haven’t bothered. Amazon’s app store has about 240,000 apps, compared to more than 1 million in the Google Play store. Most notably, Amazon’s store lacks Google’s flagship apps, so Fire Phone owners have no easy access to Gmail, YouTube or Google Maps. Other popular services, like Dropbox, are also absent. Users can sideload Android apps onto the Fire Phone, but it’s a more cumbersome process that might be beyond the technical prowess of some Amazon fans who are used to the simplicity of devices like the Kindle e-reader.

Late to Market

The Fire Phone was a classic case of “too little, too late.” Apple is on its eighth generation of iPhones, and Android devices have been around nearly as long. Smartphones now account for 72 percent of the overall mobile market in the U.S., according to Comscore. Amazon would probably have the most luck convincing first-time smartphone buyers who have yet to develop a device preference to pick up a Fire Phone, but there simply aren’t many of those people left.

Features of Limited Interest

Many of the Fire Phone’s most innovative features, like the ability to scan 100 million real-world objects with the press of a button, are really aimed at getting customers to buy more things on Amazon. Making such features the main selling point of the device immediately means its appeal will be limited to only heavy Amazon users. Other new features, like the 3D display, were generally met with a collective yawn. The iPhone 6’s most prominent new feature, meanwhile — its big screen — is a more obvious upgrade, and its own commerce-focused perk, Apple Pay, works at plenty of places outside Apple’s ecosystem.

Overall, Amazon’s ambitious device simply doesn’t have a defining quality that would compel the average consumer to run out and buy it. We’ve all made it this far in life with perfectly suitable smartphones, and there already myriad ways to buy stuff on Amazon. The Fire Phone is solving problems that nobody had in the first place.

TIME Money

This Is the Scariest Number Facing the Middle Class

Official Figures Indicate Britain Is Heading Into Recession
Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

The $20,000 retirement plan

The average middle class American has only $20,000 in retirement savings, according to a new survey that shows large swathes of the public are aware of those shortfalls and feeling anxious about their golden years.

Wells Fargo surveyed more than 1,000 middle class Americans about the state of their savings plans. Roughly two-thirds of respondents said saving for retirement was “harder” than they had anticipated. A full one-third of Americans said they won’t have sufficient funds to “survive,” a glum assessment that flared out among the older respondents. Nearly half of Americans in their 50s shared that concern.

But perhaps the most startling response came from the 22% of Americans who said they would prefer to suffer an “early death” than retire without enough funds to support a comfortable standard of living.

TIME Companies

Get an Inside Look at Amazon’s Massive Fulfillment Centers

Ordering holiday gifts on Amazon seems so simple. Ever wonder what happens between when you click "Checkout" and the items arrive at your door?

MONEY Insurance

Why Even a Fair Insurance Claim Will Send Customers Packing

The insurance claims process is so painful and outdated that about half of customers who confront it bolt no matter what.

The financial services industry has been among the slowest to embrace the mobile and other technologies that many consumers crave. Within the industry, insurers probably have been slowest—and their old-fashioned ways are stirring a high level of churn.

Insurance customers are generally pleased with their provider. Only 14% of those who submitted a claim in the past two years are unhappy with how it was handled, according to a report from Accenture. As you might expect, a high rate of those—83%—plan to switch providers. But even among the vast majority who filed a claim and were satisfied, 41% say they are likely to switch insurers in the next 12 months, the report found.

Why would satisfied customers switch? In general, their claims experience, while satisfactory, left them feeling it should have been better. “The bar has been raised and insurers now need to handle claims in a way that not only satisfies policyholders but also differentiates them from other insurers,” says Michael Costonis, global head of claims services at Accenture, a research and consulting firm.

Technology exists that would greatly streamline the claims process, he says. Consumers understand that, and when they file a claim and confront the old way of doing things they resolve to look for something better. For example, Costonis says, in the case of an auto accident, sensors could summon assistance automatically, notify a garage, and get a tow truck on the scene—all without a phone call. Your car could be fixed and delivered to your door, and if any money was due to you it might be put in your account without the tedious paperwork.

Customers expect quick claims and fair pricing. But they also want transparency and this is where technology can make a big difference. “More and more, especially with younger customers, this takes the form of providing anywhere, anytime access online or through mobile apps,” Costonis says. In the study, 44% said they would switch providers to be able to use digital channels to monitor the claims process.

Broader use of technology could help in other ways too. Three in four customers are willing to share more personal information in order to get better rates, the study found. Insurers could easily gather information about the condition of cars and customer driving habits. They could also gather information collected by smoke, carbon monoxide, humidity, and motion detectors. Such data could help them help their customers manage risks and wind up filing fewer claims—and that is the Holy Grail because customers hate the process and insurers lose a high percentage of those who file a claim no matter what.

Related: How to make sure you have enough insurance coverage

TIME Careers & Workplace

15 Exceptional Ways to Kick Your Productivity Way Up

To do
Getty Images

Here's how you can quickly get on track

Inc. logo

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Being productive is a great thing. Not only does it increase your self-confidence and sense of well-being, it can also make you more effective and your company more profitable. The ultimate reward for keeping your focus and being productive is more free time for you. And who doesn’t want more free time?

Everyone hits productivity lows, which is OK as long as they don’t last too long. Here are 15 ways to kick your productivity into high gear.

Don’t know where to begin?

1. The first step is to create a to-do list. When is the best time to create a to-do list? At the end of your workday while everything is still fresh in your mind or Sunday night after (hopefully) a restful weekend. This allows you to shut out work completely once you’re home for the night or weekend and to hit the ground running with your list in hand the next morning. It’s always a good idea to keep some paper handy during your workday to take notes and add things to your to-do list. This allows you to clear your head by getting those thoughts onto paper so you can continue to focus on the task at hand.

2. The next step is to choose one difficult, possibly longer task on your list to complete first. The sense of achievement you experience from checking off that one really hard thing on your list helps set the tone for the easier tasks to follow. They will feel like a walk in the park after you’ve tackled the hard stuff.

When is the best time to be productive?

3. A lot of this depends on who you are as a person. It is often suggested that we get up early and get to work while things are still quiet—less office chatter, fewer interruptions, just peace and solitude. Although this advice is good for some, it’s not good for everyone—we’re not all early birds. You need to dig deep and figure out when you are most productive. Maybe it’s closer to noon when you begin to feel the stirrings of being alive and able to produce. The point here is, don’t push through your to-do list during times when you tend to be the least productive—choose those times when you function at your best. Save easy to-dos for your less productive times of the day.

Hit a wall?

4. Take a walk outside and get some fresh air. Even a five-minute walk can wake you up and make you feel rejuvenated enough to dig back into work.

5. Take time out to clean and organize your desk and perhaps redecorate.Sometimes the clutter, the dust, and the really dirty keyboard can be a distraction. It’s amazing how cleaning your desk and making it an organized, beautiful place to work again can boost your productivity. Consider a new chair or adding some plants or a fish in a small bowl. Research has proved that the simple addition of a plant can increase productivity by 15 percent.

6. Take some time to browse the Web–look up things that are of interest to you.Research has shown that if you take a short break to surf the Web—say five to 15 minutes—you will feel refreshed and ready to throw yourself into work again. You may even find new inspiration and think of a new way to get through the current to-do.

7. Try laughter. Watch a couple of skits from Saturday Night Live or some other comedy show you enjoy, even if for only five minutes. Laughter increases productivity and makes you feel happier too.

8. Stand at your desk, stretch, and try deep breathing for at least five minutes. A good recipe for deep breathing: Inhale through your nose while counting slowly to 7; hold your breath for another slow count to 7; and then slowly exhale through your mouth for a slow count to 7. Go through this process 7 to 10 times. Now pat yourself on the back for completing your first meditation session and because you feel much better and can get back to work.

9. Take a snack break–the high-protein, high-fiber variety. This kind of snack—search the Web for ideas—will give you the brain boost you need for increased productivity. Sugary, high-carb snacks just bog you down and make it more likely that you will want to take a nap instead of work.

10. Stay hydrated. The older you get, the harder it is to sense that you’re thirsty. Dehydration can cause sleepiness, confusion, irritability, and other side effects (another great Web search opportunity). What is the best way to hydrate? Water—keep it handy at all times and keep drinking the stuff. It will help you maintain your focus, stay awake, and keep your productivity on high.

11. If your wall is still up, try taking a nap for up to 20 minutes. Yes, you read that right. Go to your car, a couch, or other place you feel comfortable—and take a nap. Naps as short as 15 minutes can increase alertness, improve your mood, and get your productivity juices flowing again.

Do you multitask?

12. Don’t. Research has shown that multitasking can be a productivity crusher, causing wasted time and more errors. Boost your productivity by focusing on one to-do at a time instead of switching from task to task. Occasionally, you will have to switch tasks if something hot hits your desk. Just make this the exception and not the norm. Better to place that hot item at the top of your to-do list and finish what you were doing first, thereby keeping your productivity from ending with a screeching halt.

If nothing seems to be working

13. Sometimes the problem is constant distractions. Shut off the email ping, put a Do Not Disturb Sign on your office door, or wear some headphones to shut out the noise. Research has shown that each distraction can cause up to a 20-minute delay in productivity. This can really add up, with multiple distractions decreasing productivity significantly.

14. Take a vacation. Not just a long weekend–a real vacation away from it all. If you can, take a couple weeks. Two weeks is optimal for complete recovery from the stresses of work. It’s amazing how real time away from work can give you a whole new perspective and research has shown that even a weeklong vacation increases reaction time and productivity.

15. Last resort. Perhaps you are having trouble with productivity because you simply don’t enjoy what you’re doing anymore. Think about your current work choice—is it still resonating with you? Do you ever feel excited about your work? If the answer is no, it may be time to find a new job or career entirely. If you can find your real passion in life, your productivity will go through the roof without your even trying.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Mark Zuckerberg’s 10 Best Quotes Ever

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg delivers a speech in Jakarta on October 13, 2014.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg delivers a speech in Jakarta on October 13, 2014. ROMEO GACAD—AFP/Getty Images

The best from the ever-quotable founder of Facebook

Inc. logo

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg is a true pioneer in the realm of technology. Time has named him among the top 100 most influential people in the world, and his personal wealth is currently estimated at more than $34 billion. (A portion of that wealth, he just announced, will be dedicated to combating the Ebola virus.) Zuckerberg famously launched Facebook from his Harvard dorm room in February 2004. Today, the social network has, on average, over 800 million daily users, and was most recently valued at $200 billion, Time reports.

In honor of the wunderkind’s unprecedented success, here are 10 of his best quotes to inspire entrepreneurs in any industry. (We’ll admit, some of them are just as out-of-the-box as Zuckerberg himself.)

1. “In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” —From an October 2011 interview at Y Combinator’s Startup School in Palo Alto, California.

2. “The question isn’t ‘What do we want to know about people?’ It’s, ‘What do people want to tell about themselves?” —From a November 2011 interview with Charlie Rose.

3. “I literally coded Facebook in my dorm room and launched it from my dorm room. I rented a server for $85 a month, and I funded it by putting an ad on the site, and we’ve funded ever since by putting ads on the site.” —In the same Charlie Rose interview, Zuckberg spoke about the social media giant’s humble beginnings.

4. “A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” —From a speech given to his colleagues at Facebook about relevance, as reported by The New York Times.

5. “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough.” —In an interview with Business Insider’s Henry Blodget, Zuckberg opened up about innovation, management, and more. Recently, however, he announced that Facebook would be changing this motto.

6. “This is a perverse thing, personally, but I would rather be in the cycle where people are underestimating us. It gives us the latitude to go out and make big bets that excite and amaze people.” —The entrepreneur offered his thoughts on dealing with skeptics, in an interview at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference in September 2012, as reported by Forbes.

7. “People can be really smart or have skills that are directly applicable, but if they don’t really believe in it, then they are not going to really work hard.” —From a Stanford University speaker series on hiring the right people, given October 2005.

8. “People don’t care about what someone says about you in a movie–or even what you say, right? They care about what you build.” —From an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer in July 2010.

9. “In Silicon Valley, you get this feeling that you have to be out here. But it’s not the only place to be. If I were starting now, I would have stayed in Boston. [Silicon Valley] is a little short-term focused and that bothers me.” —Also from the October 2011 interview at Y Combinator’s Startup School in Palo Alto, California.

10. “The question I ask myself like almost every day is, ‘Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?’ … Unless I feel like I’m working on the most important problem that I can help with, then I’m not going to feel good about how I’m spending my time. —From Marcia Amidon Lusted’s biography Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Creator.

Envious of the tech prodigy’s entrepreneurial success? Take his advice, and start breaking something today.

TIME Companies

Nike CEO Hints at Apple Collaboration

The athletic brand and tech giant may come together in the near future

For those looking for wearable tech that’s significantly less nerdy than Google Glass and the Apple Watch, you may not be looking for long.

TIME Apple

Apple Just Passed a Massive Milestone

Consumers Shop At An Apple Inc. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Michael Nagle—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The news of its massive quarter has finally settled in

It took a few days, but Apple’s blow-out quarterly earnings report — driven by strong iPhone and Mac sales and bolstered by the largest stock repurchase program in the history of capitalism — has finally made its way through Wall Street’s algorithms and into Apple’s share price.

The stock closed Thursday at $104.83, up 1.8% for the day, 7.2% for the week and 50% from April 2013, the cruelest month, when it dipped into the high 300s.

Speculators who bought a lot of calls in September 2012, when Apple was approaching an intraday high of $705.07 ($100.72 post-split), will never get their money back.

But investors who held on to their shares through the rout of 2012 and 2013 are back in the green.

Apple is now not only the world’s most valuable public company, but it has left the nearest contenders in the dust. The top four market caps:

Apple: $617.9 billion
Exxon: $401.4 billion
Microsoft $371.0 billion
Google $369.0 billion

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