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Amazon’s Rx For Disruption, Super Bowl Celebs

Also: The Taxman Cometh For 3rd-Party Sellers

What The Hell’s In Those Amazon Spheres, Anyway?

Prime Cut: You’ve probably seen them in photos of Amazon headquarters: three gigantic geodesic domes sitting at the base of its downtown Seattle tower. We were almost afraid to ask what’s inside … but this week the company opened them up to its employees for the first time, and we can all breathe easier now, quite literally.

TWICE Take: Turns out the spheres are actually giant terrariums – the largest is 90-feet tall and 130-feet wide – which contain a dense canopy of more than 40,000 plants comprised of 300 species from more than 50 countries. The bubbles were built to give staffers an inspiring place to work, Amazon said, and to that end feature treehouse meeting areas, waterfall features, suspension bridges and a four-story “living wall.” Who’d want to leave for HQ2?

See the full story at Puget Sound Business Journal.

Can Amazon Mend Healthcare’s Ills?

Prime Cut: What if one of the world’s most aggressive techno-businesses, most successful investment groups and largest financial institutions joined forces to fix healthcare? Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan are giving it a shot. The trio, which together have more than a million employees, announced in a joint press release this morning that they will begin working on a plan for improved healthcare at a reasonable cost.

TWICE Take: While the non-profit approach is intended for their own U.S. workers and families, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dion said the solutions they create could potentially benefit all Americans. The news sent a chill through the healthcare industry, which has reportedly been on Amazon’s radar for years now.

See the full story at the Omaha World-Herald.

Alexa Sidelined In Celebrity Super Bowl LII Ad

Prime Cut: Amazon spent oodles on a celebrity-packed 2016 Super Bowl spot to introduce America to Echo. Now that the devices dominate the smart-speaker market and their Alexa AI platform has become ubiquitous, the e-tailer is ready for Round Two.

TWICE Take: In this year’s Big Game pitch, none other than founder/CEO Jeff Bezos makes a cameo appearance amid what the commercial depicts as a national crisis: Alexa losing its voice. The just-released, 90-second ad also features celebrities Cardi B, Gordon Ramsey, Rebel Wilson and Sir Anthony Hopkins trying their hands at digital assistant stand-in. But what’s the end game? As The New York Times reported, Amazon is making a concerted effort to humanize its temperamental titan, perhaps to stave off a possible backlash against the online leviathan.

See the full story at TWICE.

The Taxman Cometh For 3rd-Party Sellers

Prime Cut: While Amazon now collects sales tax in all 45 states that have one, third-party marketplace sellers, and their customers, have largely enjoyed a tax-free ride – until now. A number of revenue-starved states, including Washington, Minnesota and Rhode Island, have recently passed new laws requiring online marketplaces to collect sales tax for their sellers.

TWICE Take: Washington’s mandate was first to go live, effective Jan. 1, prompting Amazon to create a Marketplace Tax Collection service that automatically calculates, collects and remits the appropriate tribute on every transaction. But Massachusetts took a different tack, ordering Amazon to hand over the tax ID numbers, on-hand inventory value and other pertinent information about its marketplace merchants. The move wasn’t lost on other states, which are hungering for the estimated $13 billion in uncollected marketplace taxes each year.

See the full story at CNBC.

Amazon Video: Oscar Snubs Studio

Prime Cut: Amazon may have big plans for its entertainment production arm, but apparently the folks at the Academy Awards didn’t get the memo. The company received just one Oscar nomination this year, for Best Original Screenplay for “The Big Sick,” despite some heavy directorial firepower.

TWICE Take: Misfires included Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel,” which got the cold shoulder even before more #MeToo allegations arose; Richard Linklater’s “Last Flag Flying,” which only attained half-mast, critics said; and Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” which was unable to rekindle the Oscar heat of “Carol.” What’s more, Amazon’s new aim-for-the-sky strategy has left it with little in the till, having walked away from the Sundance film festival empty handed this month.

See the full story at The Observer and

Amazon Education: Controversial Feature Returns To Teachers’ Hub 

Prime Cut: Among its many initiatives, the world’s largest e-tailer also maintains a hub for educational resources called Amazon Inspire. But Inspire inspired ire after its 2016 launch when teachers complained that copyrighted material was being uploaded without their permission. 

TWICE Take: Amazon took down the offending content, limited the site to beta testers, and relaunched it last July without the “share” feature. But the upload function was quietly returned soon after, leaving educators and school systems with decidedly mixed feelings toward the platform. 

See the full story at EdSurge.

Amazon Quote Of The Week

“The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.” — Berksire Hathaway chairman/CEO Warren Buffett, on his new healthcare reform initiative with Amazon and JPMorgan Chase