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Books, Culture, Life, Technology

Reflecting on Barnes & Noble and NOOK

121228063239-barnes-and-noble-blogI’ve been a loyal B&N customer since I bought the NOOK Tablet years ago. Shortly thereafter I purchased a NOOK Simple Touch (much better for reading, even though the Tablet was good) then a NOOK HD+ shortly after they came out. My thoughts were to support the physical bookstore rather than the Walmart of the internet that is Amazon.

The devices, in general, have been great. The NOOK HD+ I’ve had to reset twice I think because of issues with it. Other than that they’ve been great. However after years of declining customer service (in one case the CS associate suggested I should start using a Kindle).

The latest announcement from Barnes & Noble that they would be ending NOOK apps, and more importantly NOOK video is a sign, at least to me, that the NOOK party is over. The first sign that B&N wasn’t fully committed to their brand was when the Samsung tablets came out. They were lower end tablets at regular tablet prices that Samsung let B&N slap their name on. It became about having a tablet, not a reading device. Before the devices were always very reading focused. Instead of leading in the technology they became reactionary and put out a product that readers wouldn’t like and those who wanted a good tablet would be disappointed in. When they released NOOK Glowlight in 2013 I was disappointed. It had no SD card slot, which I could live without. I really wanted the page turn buttons though. That was enough to make me not buy the device. I like to hold the device and read, one handed, while eating. The Simple Touch was great for that since I never have to move my hand. So for that I was out. The horrific lack of quality cases for the device was also a troubling sign. I usually don’t have the device in its case while reading. It’s more for transportation. Still they produced no real cases and the covers they had were poorly designed, badly executed junk. No thanks, I’ll wait until the next model.

Well that day arrived in 2015. And at first I was pretty happy with the device. It looked better than the previous model (though I still don’t like the white color). I like the flush screen. The light was pretty even. And waterproof was a great, out of nowhere, type of innovation that was actually needed. I don’t take baths (I’m a shower guy) and if I’m in a pool the kids are hanging all over me, so it’s not something I personally really need, but it’s a feature that a lot of people will. I was nearly ready to pull the trigger on the device when I had some bad experiences with customer service. When their associate seemed to want me to switch to Amazon, and no one at B&N seemed to care, I decided to re-think my plan.

Now, yesterday was the last day of NOOK Apps and NOOK Video. How long until NOOK Audiobooks are gone as well? Not to mention the fact that the USA is the only country you can buy NOOK content in. In the age of digital retail shouldn’t books that are just bits and bytes be the easiest thing to sell everywhere? How long can you stay in business if you intentionally shrink your own market share? I wouldn’t think too long.

What I expect B&N to do is to abandon NOOK entirely. Physical books outsold eBooks industry wide last year and their physical stores are what has saved them as an organization. Perhaps they will sell of the business to Kobo. That idea makes me nervous as the last time a book retailer partnered with Kobo for their electronics was Borders. We know how well that worked out. Perhaps they will shift to only providing content and no devices. I don’t know how viable of an option that is for them. No matter how great the tablet is, reading on it will never be as good as an ePaper device. And some devices (Apple) won’t allow you to purchase from their devices. Some devices (Windows) don’t even have readers for many of their devices (for example Windows Phone users).

As far as their retail space, they’ve decided in large part to move away from books. One third to a half of the retail space in stores is devoted to things other than books. Tablets, toys, games, vinyl records, CDs, movies, and the coffee shop take up significant space. I hope that this move does save the retail stores. I’m not sure I think it will but I really want it to. But if it continues to move in this direction, as a home for hipsters I don’t think I’ll want to spend much time there. That’s sad. Used book stores just aren’t, in general, book stores I like to visit. They’re usually disorganized. They have sections that are out of proportion (bookcases full of romance, but next to no decent children’s scifi/fantasy). And the staff is usually there with only one or two customers at a time, which allows them to focus on me way too much. I’ll ask if I have a question but I don’t like it when staff watches me (maybe I look like a shoplifter but is that a huge problem in used bookstores?). The one by my house is also a bit expensive for used books (or perhaps it’s standard) at 50% off cover price. So the book I can get on Amazon for $15 is nearly the same price to buy a used copy.

SNook-GlowLight-Plus-is-touchscreen-operated-220x220o today I look toward the impending doom that is NOOK (and perhaps B&N at large). I’d like to be wrong. Maybe they will focus on eBooks only. Let the tablets go. I mean if they aren’t selling apps or their own video, what is even the point of a NOOK tablet device? They aren’t making money on them. Just make the app. Android will let you sell books through the app so there’s no real value in selling tablets if they are going to be lower quality than a person could pick up and Best Buy or Target. Maybe that’s their best option. Their new eBook reader is a solid device and it’s only slightly more than the Kindle Paperwhite (in fact it’s less if you remove ads from the Kindle). Whatever they do I hope they do it quick though. I’ve lost confidence in the brand and won’t be back unless they find a way to restore it.

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