Amazon’s Alexa apps are hard to find. Maybe ads will help

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Amazon, determined to make Alexa a source of revenue, invites developers to advertise their apps on the voice platform.

Ads could generate a new revenue stream, but the company’s main goal is to keep developers engaged by giving them a new way to attract users.

Eight years after its debut, Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem remains a fraction of the size of the smartphone app empires of Apple and Google, which each command more than a billion users. As a result, everyone from banks to video game makers are emphasizing apps for these platforms.

While Amazon says the company and its partners have sold “hundreds of millions” of Echo smart speakers and other Alexa-enabled devices, surveys show most people use them for relatively basic things such as set a timer and research trivia. Many shoppers also lose interest once the novelty wears off. That’s why many companies consider Alexa apps experimental.

Compounding Amazon’s challenge, people are struggling to find Alexa apps. Smartphone users looking for a weather app can quickly browse through dozens of options. Asking Alexa to read the same menu is a boring exercise.

Enter the new announcements, which will appear as pop-ups on the screens of Echo Show devices. Amazon’s bestseller is the screenless, hockey-puck-shaped Echo Dot, but the company is increasingly prioritizing models with screens, including a 15-inch device billed as a family hub and released last year.

Paid promotions are “something developers have been asking us to do,” said Aaron Rubenson, a vice president at Amazon who leads teams working on developer tools. “There are times when developers really want to draw outsized attention to their skills,” he added, using Amazon’s name for Alexa apps.

Amazon says there are around 130,000 Alexa skills, compared to around two million iPhone apps.

The company is trying to increase that number by giving developers a bigger share of revenue. Developers making less than $1 million will soon reap 80% of sales from in-app purchases or subscriptions, up from 70% before. They may also receive an additional 10%. For now, it’s cash back, but it could eventually include credits for ads or other freebies, Rubenson said. Amazon also plans to increase payments to developers whose products are well-built or find lots of users but don’t directly generate revenue.

With the introduction of the Echo and Alexa in 2014, Amazon claimed the burgeoning market for voice-activated smart home devices. The company says there are now more than 300 million light bulbs, thermostats, smart locks and other internet-connected home devices linked to Alexa, up from 200 million in September.

Still, Alexa isn’t a major profit driver for Amazon, and the company has struggled to build the voice shopping service it originally envisioned.

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