Amazon is planning to make dramatic cuts to commission rates for its affiliate marketing program, which allows media organizations, e-commerce companies, and small and independent businesses to receive a cut of revenue from a sale if a customer lands on the product page and purchases the item through a provided link. The cuts go into effect on April 21st, according to CNBC, and some product categories will see drops of more than 50 percent.
For instance, commission rates under the categories home improvement, furniture, lawn and garden, and pet products will see a commission rate of 8 percent per sale drop down to just 3 percent. For headphones, beauty products, and musical instruments, commission rates will go from 6 percent down to 3 percent. Many other categories — including grocery, sports, baby products, and outdoors and tools — are all dropping down to 3 or 1 percent, CNBC reports, from 4 percent or higher.
The changes will be a harsh blow to digital media organizations, many of which spent the last few years building out commerce divisions dedicated to recommending products that are largely purchased, at least in the US, on Amazon. Other retailers, like Best Buy and Walmart, also run affiliate marketing programs, but Amazon remains the leader in US e-commerce with nearly half of all online sales. Last month, Amazon and other retailers also began suspending dedicated commerce marketing deals, which are separate from the standard affiliate program, with big digital media firms amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Digital media companies like BuzzFeed and New York Times-owned Wirecutter are among the more prominent commerce providers in the industry. The Verge’s parent company Vox Media is another, with affiliate partnerships that include Amazon. (For more information, see our ethics policy.)
But there are scores of other news organizations that do the same and non-news companies that have spun up small to medium-sized businesses around online deals and product reviewing. Quoted by CNBC, one person — who runs some Facebook groups dedicated to sharing online deals — says they “cannot afford” the cuts and that the changes will “hurt a lot of people.” The change will hurt not just websites, but also prominent deal and e-commerce YouTube channels and even deal plug-in makers and stores like Honey and Rakuten.
Amazon isn’t citing any one reason for the commission rate cuts, according to the email it sent to program members obtained by CNBC, and the company declined to comment on the situation.
Amazon is one of the few US businesses that has only become more vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company is hiring hundreds of thousands of new workers to keep up with demand in its warehouses and for its grocery and package delivery platforms.
Yet despite the huge surge in demand for Amazon’s services, the company is struggling to maintain operations like its Amazon Fresh grocery delivery option, which now has a waiting list to use, and is outright pausing some services like its Prime Pantry service for ordering bulk household goods and nonperishables. It only just yesterday said third-party sellers can now resume sending in nonessential products for shipping to customers, after the company restricted its warehouse shipments to essential goods like health and cleaning products and nonperishable food.
Wells Fargo reportedly bars employees from using TikTok on company mobile devices
Wells Fargo has reportedly instructed employees who installed TikTok on company devices to remove the app, The Information reported. The company said it had “concerns about TikTok’s privacy and security controls and practices” in a statement to The Information.
It’s the latest company to raise security concerns about employees using the popular video-sharing app, which hit 2 billion downloads in April. On Friday, Amazon said it sent an email “in error” to employees asking them to remove TikTok from mobile devices with Amazon email addresses. The company later clarified that there had been “no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”
TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, was one of several apps recently revealed to be accessing user clipboard data when running in the background. The practice was discovered via a new feature in beta versions of iOS 14, which alerts users when an app copies from the clipboard. TikTok says it has since removed the feature.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this week that the Trump administration was “looking at” banning TikTok, although it’s not entirely clear how such a ban would work in practice. Some branches of the US military have already banned the use of TikTok on government-owned devices.
TikTok and Wells Fargo did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.
First Crucible, now New World: Amazon delays another tentpole game after early feedback
Amazon has delayed its upcoming open-world MMO New World, one of two tentpole games from its burgeoning games studio, from August 25th to an undefined spring 2021 date. The announcement comes less than two weeks after Amazon brought its other tentpole game, the free-to-play shooter Crucible, back into closed beta following barely a month of wide availability. It sounds like Amazon may be taking a more cautious approach to game development after early feedback from testers that the games weren’t quite what they hoped.
The New World team wants to add “more features and content before we share it with a wider audience,” including “plenty of middle and endgame experiences,” studio director Rich Lawrence said in a blog post that was also shared on Twitter. “We want our players to feel completely immersed in the game, and know that our studio stands for quality and lasting gameplay you can trust — and that means added time to get things where we want them before we fully release.”
Though most of us will have to wait until next year to try New World, there’s still an early access opportunity: if you signed up for the beta on or before July 9th, already preordered the game, or are a current alpha tester “in good standing,” you’ll be able to participate in a “first-hand look at New World” beginning on the game’s previously scheduled launch date, August 25th, according to an FAQ on the New World website.
If you get access to that first look, you’ll be able to play the game “in its current state” and for “a limited period of time,” according to Lawrence.
New World’s delay (which is the game’s second) leaves Amazon Games with just one other title that might be releasing in the near term: Pac-Man Live Studio, a new version of Pac-Man that you’ll be able to play directly on Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. Bandai Namco and Amazon Games announced in May that the game would be available in June, but it’s still not out yet, and the game’s website now says that it’s “coming soon.”
And we’re also not sure when Crucible will be widely available again now that it has returned to closed beta. That game, which mixes pieces of mobile online battle arenas (MOBA) and hero shooters, originally launched in late May. But in early June, Amazon pulled two of the game’s three modes, leaving only its MOBA-inspired mode, and then returned the released game to closed beta on July 1st to make more improvements.
In June 2019, Amazon laid off “dozens” of developers from Amazon Games as part of a reorganization. And in 2018, it canceled fantasy sports game Breakaway, another tentpole title, which Amazon first announced in 2016 but took back to the drawing board in October 2017 before outright canceling it.
Everything you need to stream TV
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We live in the era of streaming entertainment, and it’s easier than ever to start watching whatever new Netflix, Prime Video, or Hulu show that your friends and co-workers are raving about. No matter if you’re looking for movies, sports, live TV, or anything else, you can probably stream it, and that’s why consumers have continued to flee traditional cable and satellite TV in recent years — even now when we’re all spending the bulk of our time at home.
With movies that were intended for theaters now premiering first in the living room, this is as good a time as any to make sure you’ve got everything you need for a good streaming experience. Thankfully, it doesn’t involve spending a ton of money.
Your TV might be all you need
Pretty much any TV you buy nowadays will offer the ability to download and install a plethora of streaming apps. Some might come with the essentials — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc. — preloaded onto the TV, but whether you’re purchasing a Samsung, LG, Sony, or one of many Roku TVs, there’ll be a way to find other apps you might want.
If you get a Vizio TV, then things work a bit differently. Those TVs come bundled with a number of popular apps (including Disney Plus), but if what you’re looking for isn’t there, you’ll have to stream content from phone apps to the TV using the built-in Chromecast and Apple AirPlay features that Vizio offers. There’s no way to download other apps onto the TV itself beyond those that come preloaded.
Choosing a streaming device
If you’re not satisfied with the software experience on your TV, then it might make sense to purchase a standalone streaming box (or stick). One advantage to doing so is that apps are often supported longer and updated more frequently on a Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, or Android TV streaming gadget than they are on individual TVs. With tens of millions of people using these products, there’s a bigger incentive for companies like Netflix and HBO to keep their apps up to date with the latest features.
If all you’re looking to do is stream video content, the $39.99 Roku Streaming Stick Plus and $49.99 Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K are both easy recommendations. They deliver fantastic-looking 4K HDR picture quality and come with easy-to-use remote controls that include voice search for when you’re on the couch and trying to decide on a pick for movie night. Both Roku and Amazon offer a vast selection of third-party streaming apps, from popular must-have services to more niche options. If you want entertainment and nothing more, that’s the answer.
If you’re willing to spend a bit extra, you can get players that come with unique features. For example, Amazon’s Fire TV Cube combines the features of the aforementioned Fire TV Stick with a tiny Echo speaker, giving you the ability to control your TV and start playing a video using only your voice. Even when the TV is off, you can ask Alexa for the weather or your calendar appointments as you would with other Echo devices. The Fire TV Cube is able to control some soundbars, cable boxes, and A/V receivers in addition to your TV, so you can think of it as a sort of universal remote that’s powered by your voice. (A remote does come in the box if you prefer the more traditional route.)
If you want to stream over-the-air TV
Amazon also tries to appeal to advanced cord-cutters with devices like the Fire TV Recast, which lets you record over-the-air (OTA) TV broadcasts if you’ve got the requisite antenna plugged into your television. You can also watch these OTA live streams remotely from anywhere with your smartphone. So if you’re running late getting home to watch your favorite show on one of the big broadcast networks, you can tune in wherever you are.
The TiVo Bolt OTA is another of these DVRs that can improve the experience of watching TV over an antenna connection. Plus, you get all of the usual TiVo tricks like skipping commercials when you watch a recorded show, movie, or sports game. And the Bolt OTA is itself a streaming device that includes apps like Netflix and Hulu.
You can get an HD antenna for around $40; there are many on Amazon like the Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse that should do the job just fine. These antennas allow you to watch live programming (in high definition) from local broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC for free. Depending on where you live, not all channels will have the same signal strength. The Federal Communications Commission has this helpful website where you can enter your location and see which networks you’ll get best with an antenna in your area.
By the way, most streaming players typically include an HDMI cable in the box, but if you need a spare, never get suckered into paying more than $20 for one depending on the length you want.
Choosing what to watch
Buying a streaming device is the easy part. We’re faced with more entertainment choices than ever before from Netflix, Amazon, Disney, HBO, and other apps — including live TV subscription services like Sling TV and YouTube TV — and the monthly charges can pile up quickly if you’re not careful.
Thankfully, we’ve got a handy streaming guide for choosing which paid apps might be the best fit for your personal taste.
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