Barnes & Noble is trying to preserve a middleman function, which it sees existing even in a streamlined e-publishing world:
The thing about that is, in a truly streamlined world, that middleman function would be akin to Google — a discovery engine.
The print world has a name for a discovery engine. It’s called a catalog.
See, in a really efficient world, there wouldn’t be eBookstore consolidators. Writers would sell directly from their own sites, direct to readers. The problem is discovery.
Google’s business has been discovery.
There is no Google for Books (and no, it’s not Google Books nor will it be Google Editions; those are still consolidators).
But there’s nothing to stop someone from creating a Google for Books.
And when they do, and when someone wises up to create something like a WordPress for eBooks (that is, eBook creation that’s blog-like easy with a merchant function), that will create the streamlined world that the Internet inevitably moves towards.
The pieces are already out there for all of this. They simply haven’t been brought together.
But when they are, where does that leave Barnes & Noble? And Borders? And the rest?
In a world that’s decentralized, what could any of them add that couldn’t be added by blogs with affiliate links? How many people today rely on any bookstore for recommendations over, for example, blog reviews or — the gold standard of recommendation — word of mouth?
Consolidation will inevitably fail. Discovery is the business to be in.