Sources: Amazon And Vente-Privee In Talks Over $3 Billion Acquisition

US retailing giant Amazon is in deep and secret negotiations with Vente-Privee, the French private sales club which has taken the ecommerce and fashion industries by storm, our sources say. We asked Xavier Court, marketing director at Vente-Privee, on the record if Amazon had acquired Vente-Privee. His response was "Very flattering but not true at all." However, our sources say that although the two companies have not yet agreed anything, they are in fact negotiating a price close to 2 billion Euros, or $3.01 billion. In October we learned that Vente-Privee was looking for a sale of between $2 billion and $4 billion.

Amazon Takes The Top Spot For Cyber Monday

Experian Hitwise just released its Cyber Monday stats, with Amazon reportedly topping the list as the most visited retail website yesterday, seeing a 44% increase in visits compared to 2008. Amazon received 15.53% of the visits among the top 500 online retail sites. Hitwise says Amazon has been the top visited site on Cyber Monday since 2006.

Hitwise reports that among the top 500 retail websites, the percentage of U.S. online visits were down 9%o n Cyber Monday in 2009 compared to Cyber Monday 2008. Wal-Mart was the second most visited with 9.54% of visits followed by Target with 5.16%. BestBuy was the fourth most visited with 3.56% followed by JC Penney with 2.58 %. Walmart took the top spot for the most visited online site on Thanksgiving Day this year, according to Hitwise but Amazon edged out Walmart on Black Friday. This is the fifth year in a row that Wal-Mart was the top visited site on Thanksgiving Day.

Among the top 20 sites visited on Cyber Monday 2009, Staples saw the largest increase in visits compared to 2008 with a 61% increase, Barnes & Noble saw a 46% increase.The Apple Store, which didn’t make Hitwise’s top 20 sites, saw a 71% increase in visits on Cyber Monday 2009 versus 2008. Online stores who dropped in traffic from last year included (down 25%) and Home Depot (down 29%).

Most signs point to a positive trend when it comes to online sales and traffic this year. Coremetrics reported that online retailers saw a 13.7 percent increase in sales compared to last year, and 24.1 percent more than on Black Friday 2009. According to Hitwise, traffic to retail sites on Black Friday was up 9%. Of course, Hitwsie is just one metric used to measure traffic for these sites; comScore also provides an accurate measure for statistics but has not released its data yet for Cyber Monday.

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Bookmark Away: Instapaper Comes Up With A New Way To Work With The Kindle

Screen shot 2009-11-15 at 4.50.36 PMOne of the reasons I broke down and bought a Kindle earlier this year was a favorite service of mine, Instapaper, the simple bookmarking tool, rolled out Kindle support. Despite my belief that the Kindle is a) way too expensive and b) a fleeting technology that will be replaced by all-in-one devices, my job requires that I read a lot of online content, and Instapaper + Kindle support allows me to do so without having to spend all my time at the computer. That said, Instapaper’s Kindle support has always been less than ideal. Today, developer Marco Arment (also the lead developer for the micro-blogging site Tumblr) has done something about that.

There were a number of problems with the Kindle/Instapaper support. The biggest is that the system was completely unreliable. The way Instapaper works on the Kindle is that you have to set up the service to email your Kindle either daily or weekly wrap-ups of the articles you bookmark on the web. In my experience, about half the time this would work, the other half, these summaries simply would not get sent. Arment says he’s tried talking to Amazon about the issue, but has never received a response. Considering that Kindle users are paying $0.15 for each of these emails sent (an unfortunate side effect of the Kindle’s free built-in network), and it still is completely unreliable, this is totally unacceptable. So Arment has come up with a new way of doing Instapaper + Kindle: USB transfers.

To be clear, this isn’t the most ideal solution, since at least the over-the-air sync required you to do nothing and now you’ll have to attach your Kindle to your computer. But USB transfer will be infinitely more reliable and 100% cheaper (as in, free). This new process (which Arment stresses is still very much “beta”) allows you to download a Kindle-compatible .mobi file. These files are populated with your 20 more recent Instapaper saved articles. This also isn’t ideal if you want to see older articles you have saved, but I suppose you could always re-save them if you really wanted them on your Kindle.

On the upside, Instapaper will now work with non-U.S. Kindles (the email service was previously U.S.-only). Also nice is that many articles will now contain images, which previously were not transfered via the email route.

Along with Kindle-ready .mobi files, Instapaper now also allows for ePub downloads, the format that many other popular e-readers use (like Sony Readers). The idea is the same with the Kindle support, you get your 20 most recent articles converted into .epub files which you can then read on these devices. There is also now print support for all Instapaper folders.

Arment notes that because the over-the-air Kindle solution is completely unreliable with no support from Amazon, he plans to completely discontinue it next week in favor of the USB method. And if you’re wondering why you can’t simply use the Kindle’s built-in web browser to visit Instapaper, the answer is because the Kindle’s built-in web browser is awful and Instapaper currently doesn’t work on it (though Arment seems to suggest he is still trying to fix that).

While it’s the Kindle that is the dedicated reading device, it’s interesting to note that Instapaper’s iPhone app is at least a billion times better for consuming Instapaper content away from your computer. Not only does it seamlessly sync over the air, but you can mark items as read from it, visit the actual content on the web, and do about a dozen other more useful things. Of course, the downside is that the iPhone has a backlit screen (harder on your eyes) and is much, much smaller than the Kindle. An Apple Tablet + Instapaper app might be the perfect remedy for the latter.

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Twitter And Facebook Turn Everyone Into An Affiliate Marketer

This guest post was written by Steve Poland, a former TechCrunch writer working on his soon-to-launch start-up InSeconds that allows sites to easily customize each visitor’s experience, resulting in optimized revenue for each visit.

Affiliate marketing is 15 years old this month—CyberErotica is said to have launched the first program in 1994. The adult industry has always been ahead of the curve, but I digress. Despite 15 years of existence, which is essentially an eternity in “online years”, the performance based marketing method is still in its infancy. Sure, there are lots of affiliate programs that exist for many online etailers (and other sites that seek sales, leads and visitors) and $2.1b was paid out last year from affiliate programs, but affiliate marketing is still not as easy as it should be for website/blog Publishers to implement and get compensated for their referrals.

For those that don’t know, affiliate marketing works like this—a company with a product or service for sale pays a referral fee to Publishers (marketing companies) that can drive sales, leads, or visitors to them. The Publisher is taking on the risk here—they might be outlaying their own cash on advertising to promote the product/service, or they are linking to that company’s product/service in the content of their site’s own webpages (when they could be linking to another company instead). The Publisher signs up for an account with the affiliate program and is then given “trackable links” to use in their content, which track referrals back to them. Most etailers have an affiliate marketing program in place—for example,’s Associates program will pay 4%-15% referral fees to you when a visitor of your website clicks a link on your site and makes a purchase at

Twitter & Facebook Turn Everyone Into An Affiliate Marketer

Most recently, it’s not just websites/blogs that are referring sales, but rather individuals themselves, who are using realtime sites like Twitter and Facebook to influence their friends and followers by recommending products to buy, music to listen to, and movies to watch. These realtime discussions are becoming important sources of referral sales and leads for websites—if someone is asking on Twitter what digital camera they should buy, you bet your ass that wants anyone on the Internet responding to that user’s question to be linking to a camera for sale on (and not or wants to make sure that those influencers are compensated for referring people to buy from their website, which thus positively reinforces them to continue linking to product pages in the future.

Everyone with access to the Internet today is a Publisher. They are a voice. This has always been the case, but not the way it is now with Microblogging. Individuals were Publishers on a smaller scale via email forwards, email replies, IM, or most recently blog posts. Blogging broadened individual’s view points (influence) up to a global scale—no longer would they only influence just a few friends in a closed-circuit email, but they could influence the masses online. But blogging wasn’t realtime discussions. Instant messaging and chat rooms were always realtime discussions—but primarily on a one-on-one or small-group basis. Twitter and Facebook status updates, aka microblogging, has mashed the realtime nature of instant messaging with the global scale and voice of blogging. Pioneers Affiliate Marketing, Again

As an early pioneer of affiliate marketing for site/blog Publishers (holding the patent on all the components of an online affiliate marketing program), it only makes sense that would now become an early pioneer of affiliate marketing for individual publishers—those who simply tweet and comment on their friend’s Facebook updates. Last week, announced they would start compensating individuals with referral fees for using links in their Twitter messages and in their Facebook status updates/comments. Although it will likely lead to more noise (and spam), I think we’re going to see many companies follow’s lead. I also think this has the potential of being a game changer, if some other pieces fall into place—more on this in a bit.

What has shocked me over the years is the number of links in webpages that aren’t trackable links. Most links in content are just regular links out to other webpages, which means that they don’t contain a tracking code that corresponds to them as the referring website—which means that when a sale is referred and occurs on a site that has an affiliate program in place, that affiliate program site doesn’t know who to pay the referral fee to (even though they honestly would like to, because it encourages future linking to them by that referring Publisher). In a perfect world, all the links on all the webpages on the Internet that link to product pages would be trackable links which would earn those websites referral fees for whenever their visitors click over and purchase products from Ditto for all the links that have affiliate programs in place.

Affiliate Marketing for Publishers Still Not Quick and Easy, Yet

I would go out on a limb and estimate that 99.99% of all links on the web are not trackable links. Why? Because it’s been a bit of a pain in the ass, quite frankly. If you’re a publisher and you’re writing a content piece, you would need to go away from your writing, login to the affiliate program for the website you want to link to (i.e. Associates), and then generate the trackable link for the webpage you want to link to—ensuring that when your visitors click that link, that you’ll earn referral fees from when purchases occur. Not to mention that you have to signup for all of these affiliate programs; some of these programs are handled by third-party companies and become discontinued (making your links dead). And then there’s the money—if you don’t get very many visitors each month to your site, you may only earn a few dollars a month from affiliate programs, which then discourages you from putting forth the time to place trackable links into your content in the first place.

The lack of ease that sites/blogs have had to endure to use affiliate marketing over the years is the same for Individuals now. has said they endorse trackable links by users in social media, but it’s still not easy enough. Sure, you can go over to, login to your Associates account, and a button appears at the top of every product page saying “Share on Twitter”, which then creates a tweet with your trackable link in it, but that’s still one too many steps. People are lazy. More than half of Twitter users are using a Twitter application to do their tweeting. Until the affiliate programs are integrated into the social networking platforms (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, forums) or the applications used on these platforms (Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Tweetie,, this affiliate marketing by individuals won’t take off.

It’s in the interest of the platform (Twitter) to make this easier because it will ultimately allow their users to earn money. It’s in the interest of the users, because it earns them money and reinforces their usage of the platform (Twitter). It’s in the interest of the affiliate program (, because it positively reinforces users to share links to their site. (On the flip side, Twitter might not want to encourage this for fear of making teh spam problem even worse than it is).

“Facebook Credits” could become de facto Virtual Currency with a Facebook integration of

But if you really think about it, Facebook should really be integrating these affiliate program partners into its platform first. Facebook has the most to gain by integrating. You may have heard of the virtual currency system that Facebook has been working on—Facebook Credits. It will allow users to purchase Facebook Credits with cash and then use them in third-party Facebook applications, such as leveling up your character in a game or buying a virtual rose for a friend. To get people using this system, Facebook will likely give away some initial credits to every user, to get them to see how simple they are to use, then get the user to pull out their credit card and refill.

What about a constant refill of Facebook Credits every month to help spur more in-app activity/purchases? That could happen. Even if users were merely earning $0.44 or $1.32 monthly from their link sharing habits, if these referral fees were automatically turned into Facebook Credits, Facebook could really jump-start this in-app currency of theirs (and if they operate anything like Apple, they’ll nab 30% of all in-app money spent). This will work for and other affiliate program participants, as long as the user knows that the 1000 Facebook Credits they earned this month were from their sharing of links. Facebook would love it because these affiliate links would be an income generator for their users, encouraging their users to spend more time on Facebook, and of course there is revenue associated with users spending their credits. Finally, Facebook application developers would love it because they’ll be seeing a steady stream of revenue as well. Meanwhile, app developers and Facebook can steer clear of Scamville-type offers. With affiliate links, you only get paid if someone actually clicks through and buys something. Good referrals get rewarded,while bad referrals get nothing.

Plus, imagine the publicity for a Facebook or Twitter. I can see the headlines now, “Facebook now ‘employs’ 300 million people” or “Facebook lets 300 million people to start earning money just by sharing links”.

This is Now, Get Ready for the Effects

One effect of affiliate programs becoming integrated easily into these realtime platforms (and/or client apps) is that referral fees will go down. currently pays out 4%-15% on referral sales, but that’s because they know only a small percentage of their sales occur now from referrals (because of the lack of ease—and because of the laziness of sites linking to But with a vast usage of trackable links, then for example, if sales remained flat and 5% of all purchases were referrals previously and now that number becomes 25%, then can’t be paying out 8% referral commissions (unless sales went up 5x too), so would reduce that to 1.6% referral commissions (8%/5).

Yes, this movement is going to turn up the volume of spam noise to us all via our use and searches on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. Those people who you follow may get spammy, but their influence over you will go down (just like those people that send you too many nonsense email forwards). Everyone has a personal brand and if you spam your audience with tons of links, they won’t be listening to you as much.

But what I’m talking about isn’t the future—it’s here now, with leading the way. Those companies that don’t embrace affiliate marketing for Individual Publishers, will lose. If someone is tweeting about the new iPod, that someone is going to link to the webpages that will earn them money.

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Kindle for PC Beta Brings E-Books to Bigger Screens [Downloads]

Windows: Amazon has released a Windows application, Kindle for PC, that tells you everything in its name. It syncs with other Kindle devices, offers color pictures, font size control, and other controls for reading on your computer.

Amazon seems to be pitching Kindle for PC as a supplement to, not a substitute for, a standard Kindle experience. Kindle for PC doesn't offer blogs, newspaper, or magazine subscriptions, and the interface doesn't offer much over the Kindle device it sprung from. That said, those without iPhone/ipod Touch or Kindle devices might be eager to try out the instant-on e-book experience, along with the joys of reading through free sample chapters for any and every book.

Kindle for PC is a free download for Windows XP, Vista, and 7 systems only. A Mac version is "coming soon," according to Amazon.

Four short links: 5 November 2009

  1. Heat Maps in R -- We used financial data here because it's easier to access than the airline data, but it's actually a pretty interesting way of looking at a financial time series. Weekend and holiday effects are a bit more obvious, and it's a bit like being able to see the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly closes all at once (by scanning your eye over the calendar in different directions). Includes source code. (via migurski on Delicious)
  2. BlackHat and EC2 -- Theft of resources is the red-headed step-child of attack classes and doesn't get much attention, but on cloud platforms where resources are shared amongst many users these attacks can have a very real impact. With this in mind, we wanted to show how EC2 was vulnerable to a number of resource theft attacks and the videos below demonstrate three separate attacks against EC2 that permit an attacker to boot up massive numbers of machines, steal computing time/bandwidth from other users and steal paid-for AMIs. (via straup on Delicious)
  3. Funny Characters in Unicode -- I never get tired of the wacky stuff in Unicode. I love the thought of a Unicode committee somewhere arguing passionately about the number of buttons on the snowman .... (via Hacker News)
  4. Statistics to English Translation -- The terms sensitivity and specificity generally refer to diagnostic or screening procedures, such as an HIV or allergy tests. The sensitivity of a test is its true positive rate; the specificity is its true negative rate, although it can be more intuitive to think of specificity as the complement of the false positive rate. This matters. Bandying around numbers with misleading labels, or misinterpreting numbers that have a precise and defined meaning, does not further understanding. (Said 78.4% of statisticians, with a 20% confidence factor probability of false positives)