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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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.