Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nook eats B&N Film at 11 - on the long term sustainability of the Nook Tablets and B&N chain stores

Interesting story here, another development in the ongoing woes of Barnes & Noble, the last national retail bookstore chain. I'm not really looking forward to seeing B&N disappear....but I can completely understand why it seems to be going that direction. B&N is indeed cannibalizing itself, was Nook store sales have to pull people away from physical retail chain sales. I haven't bought an actual physical book from B&N now for better than eight months, maybe longer. The last few times I went into their store I simply brought my Nook and purchased the books I wanted on it, instead (it felt crass, but they do encourage this).

You'd think that this is just a transfer of cash flow from physical to virtual storefronts (moving their cheese around), but it sounds like B&N still has bigger problems as the Nook appears not to be as successful as, say, Amazon and it's Kindle. My guess is that Amazon has a general overall advantage with a wider range of ebooks that are competitively priced (you can survive quite nicely on the Kindle with $2.99 titles if you don't mind sticking with second rate authors, smaller publishers or sale items) and of course Kindle has no physical chain of stores to drag it down.

I hardly ever buy physical books anymore, but have a knee-jerk sense that physical book stores are important. I do still go and buy an occasional paperback at Hastings or the local mom and pop book store (Page One, or Titelwave....yeah, not a lot of book stores around here). Despite having the same general love of books that most bibliophiles do --the literal sensation of holding a book...finding a book, and reading it being somehow very significant-- I have to concede that in the last year and a half I have grown heavily dependent on my ereaders. Why? I can adjust the screen lighting, the font size, the type of font...I can make it easier to read for my aging eyes, essentially. I can carry a single tablet reader around and have access to a thousand books in my library. My biggest worry about reading from my tablet is accidental decision paralysis. My second biggest worry is it gets destroyed or lost....but my entire collection exists in the cloud, right? I can re-download without effort. If I lost my physical library in a fire or through some accident, it would be 100% gone. Not so with the ebooks...right?

Maybe, if B&N goes under, this is going to put forth an unfortunate test of the viability of the market for electronic libraries and their sustainability. If B&N went under without a provision for the retention of Nook libraries to purchasers, that could be very bad for the future of electronic retailers who don't use a model where "you buy it, you keep it," like Baen Books. Likewise, if everyone with a Nook suddenly finds its a glorified paperweight or an average Google Play tablet...well, that could be a real blow for electronic readers down the road. I guess B&N is going to be a test case for just how this works out.

As I'm typing this there's an NPR story on the radio talking about B&N and the Nook, suggesting that they plan to consolidate back to dedicated e-ink Simpletouch tablets since those attract serious readers, and that any more dedicated products in the future might come out of a partnership with some entity like Microsoft. That implies that B&N feels that lower Nook tablet sales are driven by a lack of competitiveness in that particular market....and that those who do buy, say, the HD+ are not dedicated readers, thus not contributing to putting money into the Nook Store side of the equation. Interesting.

I actually would pick up a e-ink reader for the Nook but the one I want (with the backlight) has gotten trashed repeatedly online in review after review for having a common glaring "pinpoint light" flaw in its design. Still, the premise that a book store chain which focuses on providing a dedicated reader device and only a reader device, rather than a glorified tablet, sounds sensible. Maybe if B&N realizes that they can't compete in the same space as Google and Apple, that they really only need to beat out Amazon's Kindle...maybe that will be the best way for the business to go. I guess time will tell.

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