Kline wonders why Barnes & Noble is even bothering, given that Amazon has the lion’s share of the e-reader market, and e-reader popularity is declining as more people buy and use less-expensive, more-versatile LCD tablets (such as the aforementioned $50 Fire). “It’s not that the new Nook doesn’t look like an excellent e-reader, maybe even the best one ever made,” Kline writes. “It’s just that consumer demand no longer supports two companies in the space.” Is B&N just throwing good money after bad?
It’s a valid question—especially since even this ostensibly “excellent e-reader” leaves some things to be desired. When Nate Hoffelder reviewed the Glowlight Plus on The Digital Reader, the most he could say about it was that if he knew for sure B&N would even be in the e-book business a year from now, or that it were better at managing his 450-title Nook e-book library, he might have kept it. But as it was, even though he liked it, he just couldn’t justify keeping it so he sent it back for a refund.
Meanwhile, Amazon seems to be chugging right along, bringing out an economical (and highly capable) tablet line just as the e-reader market starts to drop off. As Kline notes, Barnes & Noble’s Nook sales amount to rounding errors next to Amazon’s own revenues. Why is B&N still even trying to compete? (It puts me in mind of an old Jerry Clower anecdote about three bulls in a pasture, though you won’t quite see why until you reach the punchline.)
Nate expects the Glowlight Plus to be B&N’s last attempt at an e-reader, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was right. E-ink readers are apparently a waning market now that tablets have gotten so good, and before too long you’ll have to be a big company like Amazon in order to be able to make them cheaply enough to sell even to those few who want them.
Barnes & Noble is still selling its own line of LCD tablets, though they’ve switched over to rebranding Samsungs rather than making their own—so why not cut their losses and drop e-ink altogether? They could even drop their tablets, if they had to—they’ve still got a tablet app that runs on pretty much any tablet, so they could still do all right selling e-books for that.
At any rate, in the last year or so, things have changed enough that B&N should be rethinking its strategy regardless, as a Seeking Alpha contributor suggested a couple of months ago. It’s become obvious that e-books aren’t going to kill off bookstores, and B&N is still the biggest bookstore chain the US has. It should stop this fiddling around in an unprofitable e-book market and turn its attention back to selling physical books the best way it can. Keep e-books as a cross-promotional sideline, but make it pay for itself—stop throwing your money away.
It kind of pains me to say that, given that I’d like to see Amazon get some real competition in the e-book industry—but clearly, Barnes & Noble isn’t it. Apple is doing more e-book business than B&N now, and you can’t even read Apple e-books on anything but another Apple device! Better that they cut their losses and concentrate on keeping their paper book retail side alive.
It’s more than a little ironic that the Motley Fool pointed out that B&N isn’t doing well against Amazon’s supremacy, given that it was a Motley Fool columnist who at first thought that the Kindle was going to bomb. But then, these investor-advice sites often aren’t worth the paper they’re not printed on.
Another thing is, I don’t have such a small Nook library myself, for the same reason as Nate—that’s where most of my Fictionwise and eReader e-books went after B&N shut them down. (Fortunately, I didn’t lose access to the titles that couldn’t be transferred over, due to a habit of backing my titles up even before then.) For a while, I bought my e-books there rather than Amazon, just because I had so many titles there already. But after B&N started getting stupid about e-books, I started buying exclusively from Amazon.
I suppose what I’m saying is that, through a series of miscalculations and bad decisions, Barnes & Noble has simply become irrelevant in the e-book marketplace. Unless they could figure out a way to make more people want their products, they’re just throwing more money away the longer they even try. If they can’t go big, they’re going to need to go home.