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.

David Cameron shows Labour how to do it

Leftwing rhetoric masked rightwing reality in Cameron's conference speech.

“The tanks are in the kitchen,” was the gloomy verdict of one Labour staffer to a speech in which the Prime Minister roamed freely into traditional left-wing territory.

But don’t be fooled: David Cameron is still the leader of an incredibly right-wing government for all the liberal-left applause lines.

He gave a very moving account of the difficulties faced by careleavers: but it is his government that is denying careleavers the right to claim housing benefit after they turn 22.

He made a powerful case for expanding home ownership: but his proposed solution is a bung for buy-to-let boomers and dual-earner childless couples, the only working-age demographic to do better under Cameron than under Labour.

On policy, he made just one real concession to the left: he stuck to his guns on equal rights and continued his government’s assault on the ridiculous abuse of stop-and-search. Neither of these are small issues, and they are a world away from the Conservative party before Cameron – but they also don’t cost anything.

In exchange for a few warm words, Cameron will get the breathing space to implement a true-blue Conservative agenda, with an ever-shrinking state for most of Britain, accompanied by largesse for well-heeled pensioners, yuppie couples, and small traders.

But in doing so, he gave Labour a lesson in what they must do to win again. Policy-wise,it is Labour – with their plans to put rocketboosters under the number of new housing units built – who have the better plan to spread home ownership than Cameron’s marginal solutions. But last week, John McDonnelll focussed on the 100,000 children in temporary accomodation. They are undoubtedly the biggest and most deserving victims of Britain’s increasingly dysfunctional housing market. But Labour can’t get a Commons majority – or even win enough seats to form a minority government – if they only talk about why their policies are right for the poor. They can’t even get a majority of votes from the poor that way.

What’s the answer to Britain’s housing crisis? It’s more housebuilding, including more social housing. Labour can do what Cameron did today in Manchester – and deliver radical policy with moderate rhetoric, or they can lose.

But perhaps, if Cameron feels like the wrong role model, they could learn from a poster at the People’s History Museum, taken not from Labour’s Blairite triumphs or even the 1960s, but from 1945: “Everyone – yes, everyone – will be better off under a Labour government”.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.