Amazon introduces "Amazon Coins" for some reason

A new currency, in case you don't already have enough currencies.

Amazon is launching its own currency and I'm not entirely sure why.

The company announced the creation of "Amazon Coins" with the intention that they be used for microtransactions on Kindle Fire apps and games. One Amazon Coin will be worth exactly one cent, and to incentivise developers to include the currency, Amazon will be giving "tens of millions of dollars" worth of coins to US customers when they're launched. Amazon will take a 30 per cent cut of all transactions using Amazon Coins, as it does with sales on its store.

It's not really clear why Amazon feels the need to do this, however. The company has built up an incredibly comprehensive database of payment information from customers — a market advantage shared by Apple — and has always apparently been happy stomaching the credit card fees that eat away at micro transactions normally. That is the normal reason for requiring an alternative currency, because it ensures that people spend their money in multiples of some large amount — in effect, it imposes a minimum spend of the smallest possible top-up.

Similarly, some companies also like the advantage of controlled currencies in abstracting away the true cost of purchases. Microsoft Points, for example, are the currency used by XBox Live. An 800 points card costs roughly £7.99, but a 2100 points card costs £16.87. As a result, it's hard to keep track of your spending on the service. Is a game costing 1500 points a good deal? A bad one? Sometimes the maths get tricky. Yet 1 Amazon point is 1¢. So that can't be the reason.

All should become clearer once the company launches and things like developer restrictions and purchasing practices are announced. But for the time being, we just have to wait and see.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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