Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

Amie Street aims to make it easy and affordable for consumers to discover new independent music. What makes it unique? Every song sold at the ‘fly little music site’ starts off being free and the price increases to a maximum of USD 0.98 depending on how many people download it. The more popular a song, the faster its price will increase to 98 cents. Besides giving early buyers a better deal, the market price system gives them the added pleasure of seeing they’ve discovered a song or artist before everyone else has. Members are also rewarded for recommending music. As explained by Amie Street: “We know music is social, and the process of music discovery is stunted by traditional digital music retail sites because they are not social (or fun). Music discovery is best catalyzed by communication between people, so we reward fans for recommending songs to their friends by giving them credit to buy more music.” If a member reviews or otherwise recommends a song, they’re credited with the song’s price increase. So, if you recommend a song while it’s priced at 10 cents, and the price goes up to 90 cents, you earn 80 cents worth of credits. Promotion isn’t left solely to the community, though. Amie Street does its part, from interviewing bands and posting their videos, to organizing showcase concerts in New York. Artists maintain full ownership of their work and receive 70% of every sale after a first USD 5 to cover storage, bandwidth and transaction costs for that song. All MP3s sold through the website are DRM-free, so can be used on any music player, without restrictions. Combined with the knowledge that artists are getting their fair share of a song’s revenues, that should make consumers more willing to pay for music downloads. One to watch! While the major photography and printing brands – Kodak, Epson, HP – have developed their own digital photo printing kiosks over the past few years, an Australian start-up is convinced that it can grab a good share of a highly competitive market that HP has estimated to be worth USD 7.7 billion by 2009 (including photo mini-labs). Pxi has developed a self-contained, full-service kiosk that offers photo printing, editing, storing and online sharing. Unlike other kiosks, which are usually placed within stores, Pxi is focusing on malls and other busy public spaces – airports, train stations, universities and hospitals. The company’s other main advantages over its competition are printing speed and quick customer turnaround aided by a user-friendly interface and incorporated payment systems that accept all credit and debit cards (many in-store kiosks require that customers pay at the counter after printing their pictures). Pxi kiosks will soon also be able to bill printing charges directly to a customer’s mobile phone. The photo printers can pop out pictures in as little as 3 seconds, and Pxi claims to produce better quality prints than other kiosks, too. Another innovation is the ability to send barcode coupons to any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone within 10-20 meters reach, which is a smart way to capture the attention of digital photographers aimlessly wandering through malls or airport terminals. Pxi kiosks read the barcodes and offer customers a few free prints. During a test phase, most customers who received a barcode went on to print more photos from their camera-phones and digital cameras. Pxi will be franchising up to 2,000 kiosks across its native Australia over the next five years, has signed a licensing deal for 35,000 kiosks in China, and is working on similar deals for Japan and Canada. For those of you interested in incremental streams of income, Pxi is interested in hearing from potential franchisees from across the world. Indulging London’s sweet tooth, Fru Fru specializes in delivering homemade cupcakes. The freshly baked chocolate and vanilla cupcakes are decorated with butterflies, daisies and stars, and packaged in black boxes tied with fuchsia ribbons. As Fru Fru says: “We all love to be sent beautiful bouquets of flowers, but just occasionally it would be great to send and receive something a bit different.” Gift boxes are priced between GBP 25 for a box of 9 cupcakes and GBP 55 for a box of 30. Delivery is free to London postal codes SW11, SW4 and SW12; a delivery charge is added for other parts of London. Given enough attention to taste and detail, this is a relatively easy business to get started, especially in other non-U.S. cities that haven’t yet succumbed to the saccharine glory of cupcakes. Needless to say, special editions for Valentine’s and Mother’s Day are sure to be a hit. One thing we would add, is an easy online ordering process. Fru Fru’s customers currently have to call to place an order. Spotted by: Ozgur Alaz Related new business idea: Campus cookie calls Aiming to become more nimble, car rental company Europcar is introducing mobile car rental facilities in the United Kingdom. Small rental booths are hooked up to Europcar’s rental booking system and are manned by a representative during peak hours. During off hours, customers can drop off keys and make their own reservations over a built-in reservation hotline. A selection of hire cars is available at a location near the booth. Europcar currently has 130 outlets in the UK and its Europcar City concept will let it expand to wherever potential customers are. In some cases booths will be installed temporarily, for example to cope with increased demand during tourist seasons, major events and exhibitions. Long-term rental points will be installed wherever it isn’t feasible to build full-size outlets, like city centers. The first Europcar City is operating at London’s Euston train station, where 90% of rentals during the first month of operation were new London customers. The program will be rolled out to other locations over the next few months. Whether you want to create surprise and buzz (pop-up retail), or want to be where the demand is, following your customers around is never a bad idea 😉 Spotted by: ABTN Personalized baby blankets aren’t new. Do a Google search and you’ll be presented with dozens of stores offering blankets with embroidered trims. Many department stores and baby retailers offer the same service. However, as we’re fond of pointing out, everything can be upgraded. Sonya Bebeblankee’s suitably cute website (www.fillintheblankie.com) sells eight types of baby blankets, varying in weave, weight and price, and including a “400 Count Blankie” that brings the luxury of 400-count sheets to the infant world. Their unique selling point? Unlike most competitors, Fill in the Blankie allows buyers to have up to 200 characters embroidered along a blanket’s satin edges (the norm is just 20 characters). Instead of being limited to a baby’s name and date of birth, customers can pick a poem, write a letter or tell a short story — making for ultra-personalized gifts that can be ordered in a matter of minutes. The Dallas company’s other claim to fame is an extremely quick turnaround: 3 to 7 days instead of weeks. Proving once again that entrepreneurial TLC can turn a staid idea into something fresh, desirable and profitable. Transumers are consumers driven by experiences instead of possessions. For those seeking to free themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership, fractional ownership is a logical choice. We’ve covered various examples of this trend on Springwise, from handbag subscriptions to supercar sharing. With more and more opportunities for leasing and other forms of partial or temporary ownership, it’s no surprise that someone decided to create a web portal for ‘everything fractional’. British Fractional Life offers consumers an extensive overview of companies that offer asset sharing schemes. The website’s categories read like a summary of life’s spendy pleasures: from fine wines and racehorses to classic cars and helicopters, all of which are available in shares or time-slots. As Fractional Life explains, fractional ownership and asset-sharing let consumers get the most out of their investment by purchasing only the shares or time they require, leaving money free for purchasing as many experiences as possible. The portal aims to help consumers make well-informed decisions and find the ‘global lifestyle experiences’ that best fit their desires. Want a piece of the fractional pie? Start an agency that will run a family’s entire collection of partial ownerships, making sure the yacht gets back to the harbor on time, tracking how many handbag rentals are left this year, and knowing which races the horse will be running this season. For a healthy fractional fee, of course 😉 For an extended look at what’s driving transumers and how companies are catering to them, check out trendwatching.com’s transumers briefing. Contact: Piers Brown, piers@fractionallife.com Launched in Portland last month, Living Room Theaters intends to create a more intimate and multi-purpose approach to movie going. The small complex has 6 screening rooms, each seating 38 to 64 audience members in home-theater style recliners and loveseats or at low-lit tables with plush chairs. Customers can sit down and relax in the screening/living room half an hour before the movie starts, ordering drinks from a full bar and finger food from a tapas-style menu. Unlike regular theaters, Living Room also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a casual restaurant and bar with capacity for 50 people. On sunny days, a roll-up garage door opens the restaurant for sidewalk cafe seating. Completing the being space concept, free wifi is available throughout the lounge and cafe. All of which will help bring in the grown-up customers Living Room Theaters is targeting; not just when they want to see the latest indie flick, but also for meeting up and hanging out in a comfortable, well-designed space, or having lunch while working on their own film scripts. 😉 Of course, let’s not forget the actual movies. Living Room Theaters is all-digital, and offers a proprietary digitizing technology that lets newcomers distribute their films without the high costs of making and shipping celluloid prints. Digital screening also enables the theater to premiere films that haven’t yet been distributed (on celluloid) in the rest of the country. Programming will focus on independent releases and foreign films. The company’s owners, Felix Martin and Ernesto Rimoch, both went to film school and started the business mainly to offer audiences a new movie-going experience. They’re already working on a second location in Miami, and aim to open 10-15 small theater complexes across the United States. Time for film-loving entrepreneurs in other countries to follow their lead? Related: Haute design cineplex New York restaurant booking service PrimeTime Tables – “specializing in impossible reservations” – has created a bit of a storm in the NYC/food blogging teacup. The service, touted as a very exclusive dining club, can procure members short-notice reservations at the hottest restaurants in New York, Miami, Colorado and The Hamptons, many of which are booked weeks in advance. The company was founded by Pascal Riffaud, former concierge at hotels like the St. Regis in New York and the Ritz in Paris. Mr Riffaud also runs Personal Concierge International, a concierge service that can enhance its members’ lives in many ways, including access to ‘fully committed’ restaurants. Premium membership costs USD 450 per year, plus reservation fees (free for reservations acquired the same day before noon), while non-members pay between USD 35-45 per booking, depending on how far in advance they book (48 hours – same day). Considering economics is grounded in scarcity and top, prime-time tables in any metropolis are very scarce indeed, it’s a business idea that could take flight in other cities, too. Whether or not you’re morally outraged by tables being scalped 😉 Spotted by Urbandaddy In March last year, we wrote about a city council project in Lewisham, UK that allows citizens to send camera-phone pictures to their local council to report stray garbage, unwanted grafitti, etc. Two new spottings show that the concept is catching on. The local government of Amsterdam’s Geuzenveld district just launched an online tool that lets people pinpoint neighborhood problems on Google Maps. After filling out an online form, a marker is placed on a Google map of the area, along with information on how the complaint is being dealt with. The district is counting on the service to save time and money. Currently, a street lantern that’s out of order will lead to numerous calls and emails to the district (roughly 40% of all complaints are sent by email/internet forms). Once people get used to checking the map to see if someone else has already reported an issue, the amount of redundant notifications will presumably decrease. Geuzenveld also hopes residents will feel more involved now that they’re actually able to track how their complaint is being followed up, and that local maintenance crews will be motivated to keep the map as empty as possible, solving close to 90% of all issues within 2 days. New York, meanwhile, isn’t one to fall behind. Later this year, the city’s 911 call centers will be able to receive camera-phone pictures and videos taken by residents and visitors, straight from the scene of a crime. 311 non-emergency call centers will be similarly equipped at a later stage, allowing New Yorkers to document and photographically report on ‘quality of life problems’. Has (local) government in your neck of the woods found smart ways to use new consumer technology? Share it in the comments! Bavarians flying home to an barren kitchen needn’t worry. While waiting for their luggage to come down the conveyor belt at Munich Airport’s Terminal 2, they can order food off a billboard and pick it up on their way out. The billboard (view a close-up) shows a pan-Asian menu and Mangostin Restaurant‘s phone number. “Empty fridge? Order now and pick up your food on Level 5 in 10 minutes. It couldn’t be simpler!” We couldn’t agree more. Nothing like a bit of daily lubricant to make consumers’ busy lives easier. (Incidentally, Munich Airport is no stranger to innovation. It’s been home to the world’s first airport microbrewery since 2003, as well as a boutique specializing in erotica.) Spotted by: Monique van Dusseldorp