Is B&N Seeing Poor Sales This Holiday Season?

As an ebook blogger, I of course watch the major ebookstores. I'm watching for the sales, of course, but I also track the special deals. And lately it seems that B&N has been offering quite a few more deals than anyone else.  The sheer volume of special offers, discount coupons, and sales is beginning to feel like an act of desperation.

Take the recent Nook sales, for example. Today BN kicked off another sale. It's trade-in offer, and the sale runs until 24 December. Bring in an original Nook and you'll get $50 off your purchase. And this was the third sale in 3 days, in fact. Yesterday BN started selling the Nook Touch for $75 on Ebay (new), and on Thursday Bn offered the refurbished NookColor for $130 on Ebay.

And then there are the email sales pitches. Do you have an account with Barnes & Noble? If you do, check out how many emails you've received over the past month. I'm now up to 38 different emails (between 2 B&N accounts). I have an active and a defunct account, and B&N is putting a lot of effort into getting those accounts to buy stuff.  And I'm not just getting 19 pairs of emails; B&N is running multiple campaigns and each account is getting different sales pitches. Even if you split it in half and count only 19 emails, I'm still seeing an average exceeding 1 email every other day.

I know it sounds weird to say that they're trying too hard, but I think that's the case. B&N has even surpassed Kobo in the email department. Kobo used to be my touchstone for excessive email marketing, but in the past month I've only gotten 13 emails from Kobo, and I also have 2 accounts with Kobo (one was transferred from Borders). That should give you a good idea of how far overboard B&N has gone.

BTW, I do also get emails from Amazon, but even though they have a bunchaton of items to sell I've only gotten 10 emails from Amazon this past month.

The last time I can recall a bookseller acting this desperate was last Christmas. Border got really pushy gift cards, discounts, and sales offers. And of course we know what happened to them. Now, we know B&N is not going to be in immediate danger; they have that recent $200m investment from Liberty to fall back on. There's no chance of B&N folding as fast as Borders did, but that still doesn't mean they're having a good quarter.

We're going to have to wait until late January to find out how B&N did, but I'm not expecting good news. And even if I'm wrong, you have to agree that B&N does look desperate.

Image by niallkennedy

About Nate Hoffelder (11464 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

19 Comments on Is B&N Seeing Poor Sales This Holiday Season?

  1. I unsubscribed from B&N today because of the sheer amount of emails I’ve been getting lately.

  2. It is probably just BN trying hard to be a very viable #2…nothing we’ve seen indicates on the p or e front that would indicate a poor quarter.

  3. This is very weird. B&N has my email address, always have, from when I tried to get a freebie — and found out plastic was needed — and have never gotten a single email from them.

    Pissed though if they’ve been selling the Nook Touch on ebay NEW for $75. Damn!

  4. That email flood does smack of desperation or, at least, panicky over-reaction. And of a last-ditch effort to grow the install base at all costs. Basically it sounds like they’re trying to buy install base at all costs. (After all, the STR is most likely more expensive to build than the K4, which is estimated at $84 or so, no

    If we look at the competitive landscape for the ongoing seasonal sales, I think we can agree there have been three big surprises so far:

    1- FIRE’s launch exceeding pre-launch expectations (though not launch hype). A 5-6 million Kindle season is sounding doable.
    2- Sony (finally!) choosing to compete on price, bringing their T1 to $99.
    3- Kobo mustering an SO edition to hit $99.

    When B&N dropped the STR to $99 the intent was to undercut KTSO and the ad-less K4, not drag the premium reader baseline down to $99 and I seriously doubt they expected Sony to get down and dirty with their audio-equipped reader. That squeezed them into a two front war because they could no longer count on being the top value vendor for the epub-buyer’s camp.
    After all, the first choice in the ebook buyer’s decision tree is Kindle or something else and “something else” is now up for grabs. If B&N wants to be the top value choice for epub-philliacs, they have to undercut Sony, never mind Amazon. (Hence $75. Probably a test to see if it moves the needle.)

    In that competitive environment, I would suggest that the issue no longer is how well the Nook models are selling, but rather how well B&N *thought* they would sell. If they stocked up in expectation of great sales and instead are getting merely good sales they may find themselves looking at a serious inventory overstock… Again, an incentive to dump STRs *now* and maybe create some momentum. Or at least shore up the market share numbers.

    Do note that B&N’s whole Nook story is predicated on growing their ebook market share and cutting into Amazon’s domination. If those million-a-week Kindle volumes result in a monster XMAS morning for Amazon that stops or even reduces B&N’s ebook market share growth, their whole “investing in the future” storyline collapses. Combine that with an over-abundant inventory and they may find themselves spending their reserves on things *other* than what they planned.

    And if *that* materializes, B&N might not be headed for Chapter 7 like B&N but a Chapter 11 rinse would not be out of the question.
    $200 million may not all that far if they have to eat a good chunk of the sale price of the STRs and however many Nook 1st editions and Nook Colors remain after the dust settles.

  5. I noticed the increase in promotions at B&N also. Figured it was typical holiday marketing. Amazon sends me a daily email. Staples, Overstock, Best Buy do too. Kobo slightly less frequent.

    The usual MO is to announce a sale and then send daily reminders. “Only two days left!” “Last chance to save.” “Hurry, sale ends at midnight.”

  6. Let’s be fair, Amazon e-mailed me today twice
    on 7-16 three times
    on 7-15 twice
    on 7-14 three times
    on 7-13 5 times

    Also ebay e-mails me numerous times a day.

    I have been getting a Barnes and Noble e-mail every day but so have I gotten some from many places including Kobo. It is the Christmas season so you would expect them to e-mail a lot if they can.

    Your other point in that sales may be sluggish could be quite correct. Last year, Borders sent a discount coupon every week to me from 20-50% off an item. I think Barnes and Noble may have sent the occasional 15% off coupon. They were rather cheap about it compared to Borders.

    I don’t even think that Sony is as much a contender as the Kindle being available everywhere this year and with new products that are exciting. The Nook Touch came out during the summer so the newness is over. The Nook Tablet may be swept under the rug.

    In my local Best Buy, they don’t even have the Nook Tablet on display even though the website says it’s in stock. I find that very interesting.

    • Well, how relevant Sony is in 2011 remains to be seen but we aren’t the only ones in the dark; so is B&N. That’s why I said they might be over-reacting.

      On paper, if all you look at is the hardware, the TR1 at $99 is a much better buy than an STR at $99 and maybe even at $75. After all, $25 is just two Price-Fix ebooks worth and the open browser of the Sony is easily worth that much. (To say nothing of the audio and the android buttons, if you’re looking to root them.)

      What I find particularly odd is that B&N is fighting this war through hardware pricing instead of with content. As if they don’t think their ebookstore is good enough to win converts for them.
      That leads me to think they *do* have inventory issues brewing.

      • I think B&N is fighting the content war; they’re just not doing it in public. They have nearly as many free ebooks as Amazon. You just don’t see them because B&n doesn’t have nearly as good of an affiliate system as Amazon.

        • Not quite what I meant.
          B&N seems to be pinning its entire consumer message this holiday sales season on being the cheapest hunk of plastic. They’re not particularly trying to argue a content-based value proposition. Especially against the rest of the epub field.
          Its almost as if they were saying: “everybody has the same books at the same prices and the hardware is all the same. But we’re cheaper.”
          Seems an odd way to go considering how much effort they *are* putting into beefing up their ebookstore. Its almost as if the content acquisition guys aren’t talking to the hardware guys.
          We’ll know soon enough what kind of situation spring finds them in.
          Who knows? We may see STRs hit $49or even $29 by easter.

      • >>>On paper, if all you look at is the hardware, the TR1 at $99 is a much better buy than an STR at $99 and maybe even at $75.

        Doesn’t matter at all. The Nook Touch has the rooting momentum and that has accounted for probably more sales than the T1 has had in total so far.

        • Rooting is important only to a very tiny group of people. Most people buy one of these devices to use as they are. It is time to stop viewing things from the perspective of the 5 people who care about the ability to root and to view things from the perspective of the millions who don’t know what rooting is, wouldn’t root even if they knew what it is, and who buy these devices for the purposes other than those tech geeks, but no one else, thinks are important.

          • “Five people who care about rooting” is condescending snobbery. The bulk of my daily blog traffic comes from people searching for Nook Touch rooting. These aren’t people who’ve HAD a Touch and woke up one day with the idea of rooting. These are people WHO BOUGHT FOR ROOTING. You are just out of the frikkin reality loop, Adin. Opt-in.

          • Make that six.
            I just picked up a Sony to root it to install Coolreader and Kindle apps.
            Rooting is not a mainstream function but listening to audio ebooks and mp3s is. And then there is the open browser…

            Where B&N (and Kobo) have it all over Sony is in the ebookstores. But since I don’t do ADEPT, I don’t care. That’s why I’m rooting, to get coolreader on the thing. The hardware looks good. The native reader? Vanilla. And it has font issues. If it weren’t rootable or if I were looking at an unending war with the vendor, I wouldn’t be playing with it.

  7. I believe Borders e-mail accounts went to B&N via bankruptcy purchase, not Kobo.

  8. >>>Rooting is not a mainstream function

    *snort* The mainstream might not do it, but they look to their tech savvy friends *to do it for them*. Before the Nook Touch, there was rooting the Nook Color. That made even *mainstream media* news and drove Nook Color sales.

    So anyone who thinks it’s just 5 or 6 people interested just hasn’t been paying any damned attention to it.

    • I think you guys that think rooters are driving sales need to go into a Barnes and Noble or into a Best Buy and actually look at the people that buy e readers. They are your typical everyday people, housewives, and retirees. They are not rooters.

      Sorry Mike, people searching to how to root their Nooks and have already bought them are still probably not the overwhelming majority of people that have purchased a Nook. I post to several discussion boards about e readers on various book groups (people that like to read not just have gadgets) and most of the people having e readers are not rooting them.

      I agree with Rich and that rooting is a niche market for e readers and not a driving force.

  9. I get the feeling that B&N management believes it is going to be in serious trouble.

    Here’s my reasoning: With the closure of my local Borders, the nearest bookstore (Burlington, VT B&N) is two hours away. Sunday was my first visit since Labor Day Weekend. And what I observed was distressing:

    Square footage devoted to books was about 60% of what it was a year ago, far less than half of what was there 2 years ago. Shelves were far sparser than they were a year ago — lots of face-outs, far fewer titles, much of the backlist has dwindled. My favorite sections, sci-fi and graphic novels, utterly decimated.

    Depressingly reminiscent of Borders a year or two ago.

    Lots of kitschy non-book items — and, as we all know, selling teddy bears and kitsch was the masterstroke that was going to save Borders. Lots and lots of room devoted to the expanded kids section and of course, an incessant Nook brainwashing program (huge try-and-test area, multiple sales agents, posters and cards an all cafe tables, PA announcements), all pushing Nook…meanwhile, observed far more Kindles being used in the cafe than Nooks.

    Signs out front reminding customers that the physical store’s hours are limited but is open 24 hours a day.

    It seems to me that B&N has made a conscious decision to actively drive readers away from physical stores — by not keeping hardly anything in stock anymore — and trying to drive them online, further accelerating the move to ebooks. But B&N faces such fierce competition from Amazon that I wonder if this is a good move at all…the DRM issue will ensure that most readers stick with whatever platform they initially pick (Amazon or B&N), but Amazon just has so much “mindshare” in ebooks at this point, it seems like B&N is doomed to be a distant second unless they come up with something stunningly amazing to take the initiative away from Amazon…and by all accounts, it looks like every more B&N makes is just trying to tread water while the Amazon tidal wave swamps everything around it.

    As an author, it’s clear that physical bookstore distribution is going to become almost irrelevant within a couple of years and all of the action is going to be in online retailing.

    Bill Smith

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