Amazon

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

With its latest mobile app, Prime Now, Amazon is one step closer to world domination.

With the app, which is available on iOS and Android, Amazon Prime subscribers have the option of free two-hour delivery — or delivery within an hour for $7.99. The app also encourages you to pay a $5 tip to the couriers.

Prime Now service finally launched for select zip codes in Austin on Wednesday, making it the sixth city in the nation to have it. Prime Now originally launched in New York City in late 2014, later expanding to Baltimore, Miami, Dallas and Atlanta.

In the name of journalism, The Daily Texan tested out the service by placing two separate orders for two very important items. The first was a Barbie Collector’s Edition Texas A&M University Ken Doll, at the request of Texan film critic Alex Pelham. The second was 125 feet of bubble wrap, because the Texan knows how to have fun. The first item was hyper-specific, the second big and bulky.

Daulton Venglar | The Daily Texan

Both were ordered using the one-hour service and delivered to Almetris Duren Residence Hall, where I was waiting with a stopwatch.

Ken arrived to my reluctant embrace 19 minutes and 59 seconds after we placed the order. The gentleman who delivered him appeared stumped as to why a young man would require a doll. Perhaps he thought I was into voodoo magic.

The bubble wrap arrived in 25 minutes and 38 seconds, and it was delivered by a different person. Popping will ensue.

So there’s no question about it: Amazon Prime Now lives up to the “Now” in its name. It works exactly as advertised, and the couriers who delivered the items were courteous despite the time crunch. No company’s customer service has ever been this horrifyingly good.  

But don’t be mistaken, Prime Now has a few drawbacks. Orders must cost at least $15 to be eligible, and for the one-hour delivery service, the cost adds up more quickly with the shipping fee and tip.

 
It’s also strange that a service based on convenience is rather inconvenient to use — Prime subscribers have to order exclusively from the mobile app in order to use Prime Now. Amazon should look into making Prime Now delivery options available on its website in the future.

Daulton Venglar | The Daily Texan

Of course, you also have to be a Prime member to use Prime Now. This means you have to pay an annual fee of $99, but the membership gets you free two-day shipping and access to streaming movies and TV shows.

Amazon Prime Now offers reliably speedy service, but UT students have mixed feelings about it.

Civil engineering junior Vanessa O’Kelly, an Amazon Prime member, would rather use the two-hour service than the one-hour one.

“There’s nothing I need in one hour that justifies [spending] $8,” O’Kelly said.

Plan II freshman Seton Uhlhorn, also an Amazon Prime member, said the cost of using Prime Now is reasonable for the service, and she would use it for certain items.

“It would definitely be helpful for buying books for school,” Uhlhorn said. “I hate waiting to receive books, especially if I need them quickly for research.”

Amazon Prime Now offers impressive delivery times, but its pricing strategy may deter customers, and its speedy service feels mostly unnecessary. Unless you really need a Texas A&M Ken Doll or can’t wait for 125 feet of bubble wrap, you’ll probably only use Prime Now for one reason: to time the delivery guy.

Daulton Venglar | The Daily Texan

Amazon Prime Now is now available in these Austin zip codes: 78613, 78701, 78703, 78704, 78705, 78708, 78711, 78712, 78713, 78714, 78720, 78722, 78723, 78727, 78728, 78729, 78731, 78751, 78752, 78753, 78754, 78755, 78756, 78757, 78758 and 78759. To read more about how Prime Now came to Austin, click here.

Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Amazon Prime customers in West Campus can now have items delivered to them in one hour, thanks to the expansion of Prime Now to several Austin zip codes.

Prime Now, a service accessible to Amazon Prime users, delivers items such as laundry detergent, grocery items and electronics to customers in two hours for free and in one hour for $7.99. 

The new, fast-paced delivery system has been in progress for a long time, according to Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman. 

“Since day one, we have been building the infrastructure to support superfast delivery,” Cheeseman said in an email. “This is our fastest delivery method yet and is fueled by Amazon’s growing network of fulfillment centers.”

Amazon introduced Prime Now in Dallas before it came to certain Austin zip codes, including central and north Austin, and the program plans to expand to more areas in Austin over time.

Kevin Gwen, biology freshman and Amazon Prime user, said when he first heard that he could order items and get them delivered within one hour, he thought it was a joke, but said he plans on putting the service to good use.

“It should be really exciting because I think I can just get whatever I need in an hour, which is good, especially being a college student,” Gwen said. “The potential is limitless. The wait isn’t two days anymore. Now, if I need something, I can get it within the hour, and emergency situations get a lot easier.”

Although the new service has the potential to save time and money, there might be other foreseeable downsides, according to Rachel Steinkamp, journalism and theater and dance senior and Amazon Prime user.

“The only thing that I kind of see as the downside to this is that now I have to tip the delivery guy, and so that’s one of the Catch 22’s,” Steinkamp said. “I’m also really worried about what they’re going to do with traffic. Can you really guarantee two-hour delivery when you’re all the way across town, and it’s rush hour, and I-35 is always a mess?”

Although for some there might be several catches to the new service, the thought of one-hour delivery in Austin is an exciting one, according to Cheeseman. 

“We are very excited to bring Prime Now to Austin, and we know customers will love the convenience of one hour delivery,” Cheeseman said.

Want to know if Prime Now works? We tested it out for you by ordering a special edition Ken doll and 125 feet of bubble wrap. Click here for our results.

Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Cooking can be daunting for college students who aren’t the most experienced in the kitchen. Life can be made much simpler with the right tools. The Daily Texan compiled a list of seven tools every budding at-home cook should own. 

1. A food processor opens up a world of possibilities, such as hot soups or icy cold concoctions. It may be a bit bulky, but processors can be used to make raw desserts, banana ice cream and pie crusts. For more savory options, processors are great for quickly ricing and shredding vegetables. Get your own for less than $30 on Amazon. 

2. Wooden spoons are going to be your new best friends. Metal tools scratch many pots and pans, but wood won’t cause them any harm. They can be used to stir up hot mixtures, such as soups or stews, or for room-temperature treats, such as cookie dough and brownie batter. Prices range from $5–$20, depending on the size and quality. 

3. A stainless steel cookie dough scoop will ensure your cookies look the same shape and size. They come in a variety of sizes — a two-tablespoon size is perfect for your average cookie — and double as ice cream or muffin batter scoops. A good one will cost about $15.

4. Oven mitts are critical for safety in the kitchen. Make sure the oven mitts you’re using are durable and won’t let heat get to your hands. Silicone oven mitts are the best option. They won’t tear or stain and double as trivets underneath hot pans. Guarantee a cooking career free of burns for around $30. 

5. Non-stick baking mats are key to making sure your baking projects don’t stick to the pan, and you’ll never have to use parchment or wax paper again. They’re also great when rolling out bread dough and trying not to make the biggest mess imaginable. They come in different sizes, and prices range from about $10–$30. 

6. Sheet pans are the wonder of the kitchen that can do no wrong. They’re great for baking cookies, sheet cakes or entire meals. Throw a bunch of veggies tossed in olive oil in there and you’re good to go. Not to mention that the cleanup is a breeze. Find a set of two on Amazon for about $30. 

7. A good wood cutting board lasts a lifetime if it’s taken care of. Obviously, they’re great for cutting and preparing foods, but they also work as serving boards for your fancy cheese and wine parties. Invest at least $20 for a quality board that will serve you well.

Texas soon to join states taxing Amazon.com

Texas residents are set to begin paying a 6.25 percent sales tax on Amazon.com purchases starting Sunday.

The sales tax drama started when Texas claimed Amazon owed the state $269 million in back taxes from 2005-2009 because the company operated a distribution facility in Irving and was technically present in the state. Amazon said the charge was “without merit,” and sought to make a deal with Texas.

In May 2011, Amazon had promised to invest $300 million and create 6,000 jobs in exchange for a 4 1/2 year sales tax exemption, but Texas rejected the deal.

Amazon and Texas reached an agreement in April, and the online company doesn’t have to repay the back taxes, but instead will make $200 million in capital investments, create 2,500 jobs and charge a 6.25 percent sales tax.

Proponents of forcing Amazon to collect sales tax say the move is meant to put online retailers on an even playing field with traditional brick-and-mortar stores and provide an extra revenue stream for the state.

The Austin-American Statesman reported the lack of an online sales tax shorts Texas $600 million a year.

Amazon, however, said stores like Wal-Mart are behind the push for legislation to tax online retailers in a move to curb their growth.

The trend of states levying sales taxes on online retailers is gaining momentum. Texas joins Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin in mandating an online sales tax, with New Jersey and Virginia soon to follow.

“Basic Training,” a short, 22,000-word novella released through Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, is the newest posthumous release by acclaimed novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Although known primarily for his satire and science fiction work, “Basic Training” is more of a coming-of-age story than anything else. Considering that it was written at the start of his career, this genre is perhaps the most appropriate for his promising beginnings and eventual success.

The previously unpublished novella was rejected by popular short story publishers of the time, including the Saturday Evening Post and McCalls, before Vonnegut achieved mainstream success. Marketed by e-publisher RosettaBooks as a novella focusing on “the improbability of existence and the meaning of heroism,” “Basic Training” tells the story of Haley Brandon, a teenage boy who moves from New York to the farm of his retired military general uncle after the death of his parents.

“You’re evidently going to have to learn the hard way that your happiness for the rest of your lives depends on how well you fit yourselves into other people’s plans, not vice versa,” warns Haley’s uncle, “And on how willing you are to submit to the judgment of someone who knows more than you do.”

It’s with this rigidity in mind that the story’s central conflict arises between Haley’s previous lifestyle as a budding musician and the rigorous work required by Ardennes Farm.

However, “Basic Training” never quite captures the humanistic feeling of Vonnegut’s more memorable works — which is perhaps appropriate, considering it was originally submitted under his early pseudonym of Mark Harvey. There are certainly elements of Vonnegut’s satirical prowess within the short narrative, but these elements remain subdued subtleties rather than the more transparent brilliance displayed in later titles such as “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Breakfast of Champions.” The formulaic storytelling almost borders on cliche at times, and lacks the punch that Vonnegut is typically able to deliver, even in the most simplistic of phrases. As one of his earliest short stories, it’s clear that he’s still developing his voice and skill for delivering social satire.

Inspired by his own experiences following his return from World War II and written during his early days as a struggling writer, “Basic Training” seems more reminiscent of J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” than the typical sci-fi Vonnegut novel in both style and storyline.

However, certain passages nonetheless stand out almost as foreshadowing of the eventual brilliance that Vonnegut would eventually achieve throughout his career: “At 2 a.m., Central Standard Time, as reckoned by the parlor mantle clock in the home of Brigadier General William Cooley, retired, a light beam left the burning sun. At 2:08 it glanced from the lip of a Moon crater, and a second later died on Earth, in the staring eyes of Haley Brandon.”

Although it may not be the best of Vonnegut’s work, “Basic Training” is still an enjoyable short story for its reasonable price tag of $1.99 as an Amazon Kindle Single. Alongside the promise of more unpublished Vonnegut work from RosettaBooks and the recent success of other Kindle Singles (such as Margaret Atwood’s “I’m Starved for You”), Vonnegut’s newest release may prove that there’s still a place for the short story in the modern digital marketplace.

A student strolls through the aisles of the University Co-op, Monday. Though competition from online competitors and rival bookstores is high, the Co-op remains the most attractive option for students looking to buy their books quickly.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

Campus bookstores are fighting textbook wars as e-readers, online supplements and digital copies of textbooks, increase competition and shrink bookstores at UT.

BookHolders has the lowest listed prices for used textbooks for three core classes required by UT, according to data collected by the Daily Texan on four UT bookstores.

Austin Textbooks had the second lowest prices, followed by the University Co-op and West Campus Books. BookHolders works differently by offering an advantage program that co-signs customers as sellers of their books. The store sells the co-signer’s book to other students instead of actually purchasing them, meaning that the listed prices could be misleading since the lowered prices also reflect money lost by students.

From 2000 until 2005 the University Co-op was the only bookstore on campus. It remains the most popular destination for people trying to find recently updated books quickly, said Spanish junior Jonathan Hernandez.

“Sometimes professors tell us that they want the most updated information in their books, so we have to buy these new editions that only the Co-op has,” Hernandez said. “Professors try to find cheaper editions, but they take weeks to come in and you have to come here and buy the books since you don’t want to fall behind two or three chapters.”

When the Co-op isn’t able to stock a book, necessity brings students into other stores where the needed text is available, said economics junior Ramses Elserwy.

“Usually the Co-op has everything I need, but only Austin Textbooks had the new edition that I had to have for class,” Elserwy said. “I figure the books are always going to be expensive. If you need a book, you got to do it.”

The increasing availability of books on Amazon and other providers means that the cheapest deals can now be found online, said business and pre-pharmacy junior Christine Dinh.

“The Co-op is first because I know they’ll have the books I’ll need, but then I’ll go online,” Dinh said. “Usually my friends are willing to sell their books for cheap, but I think that Amazon has the best prices.”

The movement towards buying books and digital publications online is shrinking the market for campus bookstores, said Austin Textbooks owner Ken Jones. He said he was surprised that other stores are trying to compete and expand in a market that is dwindling.

“In five years my store and all the other stores will be gone because the industry is changing,” Jones said. “There are incredible amounts of online competition, professors are putting information online, and there are more packets of information coming out than we can keep up with. I see the writing on the wall.”

However, the diminishing role of bookstores does not necessarily mean that students will get better deals, Jones said.

“One thing that kids don’t really know is that books have a margin in them ­— that’s how bookstores make money,” Jones said. “With Amazon you have a paradigm shift. They have no margin and the prices work like a stock market. You check the prices of books two months from now and you’ll be surprised to see how much they’ve dropped. The publishers make more money like that.”

 Printed on Tuesday January 24, 2012 as: Technology creates challenges, booksellers fight to compete

 

When thinking about the South By Southwest festival, most usually envision mobs, music wafting from all directions and long lines of people waiting for movies and concerts. However, there is another important category in this annual festival: the Interactive competition.

The Interactive competition is a contest that analyzes innovative ideas and upstart tech companies then awards the best for their ingenuity and ability to contribute to their community. One of the five finalists in the community section was Acts of Sharing. This upstart company was the brainchild of a graduate student here at the University of Texas.

The website combines Facebook and Amazon interfaces to make it easy to lend and borrow items rather than buying them. When a person signs up with Acts of Sharing, they can create and maintain a list of people whom they allow to view items they’re are willing to lend out. The photos of items that participants are willing to share come off of a picture database just like Amazon, making it effortless to post objects and thereby alleviating the hassle of taking a photo, uploading it and posting it onto the site. The ease of this system allows it to be a viable alternative to similar sites that sell products, such as eBay and Amazon. Acts of Sharing has a leg up on the competition because it allows participants to obtain a product for free rather than paying a price plus shipping and handling.

Acts of Sharing’s innovative idea plays perfectly into a college student’s lifestyle. Everyone knows the stereotype of a poor college kid. However, sometimes we do need a little help affording our textbooks, or we need to pinch our pennies and not buy the DVD that we really want. Acts of Sharing works to our advantage. If a friend posts his $150 calculus book and lends it to you, think of what you could do with the extra cash. Plus, that book gets a little extra use before your friend sells it back to the Co-op for a measly dividend.

Sharing on a broad scale not only benefits individuals, but it makes the user feel like a good person and a part of something bigger. Sharing is also eco-friendly and sustainable because it reduces the need to manufacture new products, leaving us with a healthier environment. If that isn’t enough to persuade you of the benefits of lending, think about how much more room you’ll have around if people are borrowing items that you’ve only used once or twice.

All of these reasons to temporarily give your possessions to a friend are important, but as college students our focus is often on how to save the most money. By borrowing, we can scrounge up extra cash that we can use to buy an ACL pass or fill up our gas tank. When we better the community and try to stretch the potential of our belongings, we end up benefitting ourselves in the end. If Acts of Sharing was notable enough to be recognized in a nationally renowned festival, then we can bet that it has potential to create something great and benefit us in a way that is immediately evident and tangible.

<em>Devenyns is an English junior.<em>