The Changes Nook Media Must Make

The first move Barnes & Noble (aka Nook Media) needs to make is to alert app developers that they will be closing their Nook App Store.It was foolish of them to even create that. They got off the eBook path there and had ambitions beyond their ability to pull them off. They didn’t know when to say No.Closing the Nook App Store would presage a move towards liberating Android on their devices, a move they should have made from the beginning.

When they saw all the sales happening from people rooting the NookColor, they should have capitalized on that. They had the hottest seven-inch tablet at that time and would have cleaned up. The Kindle Fire — which came later — would have faced some tough competition and Barnes & Noble would have been able to mock Amazon for its locked-down device.

Just like writers can’t have all the money, neither can Barnes & Noble.

The best they can hope for now is creating good will with their customers by changing to open Android hardware and letting people use Google Play for apps and any damn music and video services they want. Barnes & Noble shouldn’t be in the business of apps, music, or video. They are booksellers.

When Jobs returned to Apple, he simplified the product lines. Consumer/Business and Notebook/Desktop.

Barnes & Noble should shrink to two: eInk/Color.

eInk is worth one more go. A slim six-incher with open Android, so it’s the world’s first eInk reader and tablet. Just look at the press an impractical eInk phone is getting today. An eInk reader/tablet is practical. Yes, it could run the Kindle app, but so what? That’s what tablets do. This is a niche Barnes & Noble would own. And they need something to own.

Color, shrink the line down to one model: The seven-inch Nook HD, with just one internal storage size (take your pick). But discontinue it in 2014. Leave color devices to the experts. Barnes & Noble did some really good hardware, but locking it down was suicidal and the world has changed too much. Amazon will eventually hit a wall with their hardware sales too. They’re next. And they know it, which is why their Kindle app incorporates features from their eInk Kindle.

And use those storefronts.

Today on the webcast, William Lynch tried to snow Wall Street today on the value of their e-publication (books and magazines) inventory. Face facts: Anyone can do that. Sure it’s work, but so what? Kobo has done it. So have Apple and Google. And what no one mentioned was the store set up by publishers themselves: Bookish. If the publishers wake up — and they have lots of failures to learn from now — they won’t need Barnes & Noble.

So this is where the storefronts come in.

As I told Sony ages ago, writers don’t need publishers. Bookstores are not selling slabs of print. They are selling writing and writers.

Use those storefronts to pimp PubIT! Get the writers in your inventory, as Amazon has done with KDP.

Hold sessions that teach writers how they can create for and publish their books on PubIT. That’s a strategic advantage that Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Google cannot match. No print publisher can match it, either. Why hasn’t this been done from the start? I don’t know. But it needs to be done now. Nook Media can have books that Barnes & Noble will never have — because they are e-only.

And, finally, drop the mutant DRM and use standard Adobe DRM. Welcome all eBook buyers. Without this, forget everything else.

25 Comments on The Changes Nook Media Must Make

  1. The Nook HD+ has the lowest price of any full HD tablet. The hardware generally reviews well. The browser is decent the reading apps are better than the generic android app.
    And still the sales aren’t there.
    So, what do they do? Issue a patch to match Amazon and let you install arbitrary apps and increase the functionality of the tablet?
    No.
    They give out a $50 credit to bring the effective price even lower, to $219.
    Like they think 5 or 6 books worth of freebies will make everybody forget the lockdown.

    If cheap doesn’t work, try cheaper?
    Look where the STR is today:
    http://www.amazon.com/Barnes-Noble-Simple-Touch-Reader/dp/140053271X
    $64.
    And still not moving.

    • Wut? I see this nonsense:

      List Price: $249.98
      Price: $71.49
      You Save: $178.49 (71%)

      When the hell did it ever list for $249.98?!!?

    • >>>So, what do they do? Issue a patch to match Amazon and let you install arbitrary apps and increase the functionality of the tablet?

      It’s not as easy as a patch. There’s a lot of engineering to do.

      And then there’s the marketing of it too.

      My fear is that B&N will take the idiot’s way out: Stop production of the HD+ (likely already did a month ago) and incremental price cuts til discontinued.

      Which would change *nothing* for them.

      • It shouldn’t take much engineering to enable a feature that was standard in android before they took it out. And which can be restored by a hacker patch.

        As for the STR price, the $64 vendor got moved to “More buying choices”.
        Looks like the front-and-center vendor rotates…
        Amazon is tricky. Up to and including selling Nooks cheaper than B&N. 😀

        And I’d say your fears are likely.
        The “gift card” credit promo looks like a cut-your-losses clearance sale. It’s their way or the highway.

  2. The $199 Staples sale for the Nook HD+ was very juicy.

  3. Given that you think that they should discontinue the LCD tabs in 2014, what’s the point of them even spending the money to revise the OS, given that that would cost even more money? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just lower the prices, in some HP Touchpad-esque scenario? (Although maybe not all the way to $100).

    Agreed with you about the e-ink though and making an e-ink tablet. They can keep their store, just allow sideloading for those who want to put on more apps. Of course, if it succeeds Amazon might copycat them and release an e-ink Android tablet.

    • The OS is already there. The main engineering comes from making their skin what it is — a skin and launcher, essentially ripping it out of the OS and making it the option it should have been all along. If they have any brains — and I’m not going to risk any money on that prospect — it’s something they should have started once they saw the disastrous sales numbers come in.

      • One of the interesting things that are exposed installing an alternate launcher on the FireHD is how several of the otherwise “integrated” Kindle features are really discrete android apps tied together by the GUI so that changing the GUI exposes the discrete blocks.
        Ditto with the hacked Sonys.
        So if Nook starts with one of their existing readers, hacked, they can just implement the same changes in the native code and maybe end up with a more graceful open design.

        Maybe they should just pre-hack the remaining STRs and sell them at $99 as open tablets.

        • IDK. Nooks have always had a non-standard partitioning system (that they eventually had to tweak due to customer outrage), so I’m not sure you can compare what others have done to what B&N has done.

          Look, all of this is not easy. Even if it’s just a week’s worth of coding, they still have to ramp up marketing, re-do all their in-store stuff, and spin the message that this change is good for customers and not an abandonment of them. They just can’t wave a wand here. They risk everything with this. They don’t want to do what HP did with webOS.

          This is especially tricky if they also intend to drop their DRM scheme (or at the least, let people *choose* the DRM). They must wrestle with Adobe over fees. They must also inform all of their partners. Then they must figure out how to support that nightmare too.

          It’s just not easy. None of it.

          • If they jump through all those hoops just to release a “One week” patch then maybe that’s how you spend $1.50 to $1.00.
            It *should* be that big a deal.
            Amazon ships their with optional app sideloading–they don’t publicize it, market it, or try to convince anybody it’s good. They just did it from day one. If you know to use it, you use it. If not, you stay locked to their store.
            And odds are the majority of Fire buyers stay nice-n-cozy in Amazon land.
            But those that need it can find it where Android phones have it.
            Nook could issue an unlocking update and leave it at that.
            If it matters to you, you install it.
            If it doesn’t, you don’t.
            No need to over-complicate it.

          • Make it: It *shouldn’t* be a big deal.

  4. B&N won’t go open Android ever! They have exec making dumb decisions that are impossible to understand to this day. NC was popularized by rooter, they saw that and took it the complete opposition direction. Now they have some Microsoft money, it’s even less likely they will go with full Android. I’m surprised MS hasn’t make them install Windows 8 yet.

    There is no Jobs to save B&N at this rate if they don’t learn form their mistakes. Doubling down and to continue the Nook line is a risk not worth taking. Although don’t tell Lynch that…aside from Jobs and now Musk, I think most CEOs are simply talking-heads.

    Throwing money at a problem you don’t understand doesn’t make it go away. Failing business likes to do this a lot and frequently…

    • I give Lynch some credit for having taste. He did some very fine hardware for B&N, better than we’ve seen from many tech companies. That should not be dismissed offhand. It’s a big credit to him.

      What we don’t know and might never know is whether the dead-end strategy they’ve used was his or marching orders given to him by Riggio as a condition of having the job. I leave him the “I was only following orders” loophole. I really don’t think Lynch could have been *that* stupid, not given the smart hardware he’s done.

      • I agree… to an extent…
        The problem with outsourced designs like Nooks, Kindles, Kobos, etc is that you never knnow how much of the design comes from the vendor and how much from their ODM. Its not as easy as the early days when all the Hanlin-supplied readers were the exact same design with minimally-tweaked firmware and a dozen vendors ran off the exact same Netronix design.
        Amazon has done a bit of bragging about their own hardware tweaks here and there and their basic ergo layouts have been idiosyncratic enough to be the result of Lab 126 (much like Nook’s color touchpad is clearly a B&N idea, original or otherwise) but there is no way to tell where specific traits or hardware features originate. With rare exceptions.
        The Kindle frontlight is clearly theirs as is the radio modem chip in the LTE FireHD.
        B&N has a patent on *their* front light so that is theirs. But the IR touch tech is licensed, the eink panels generic, CPUs, controllers etc… All open market components.
        The only thing we know for sure is theirs is trade dress and software. And there both nook and Kindle have hits and misses.

        • I can’t find the damn link now (maybe Nate has it), but there was a profile of the guy who designed the Nook Simple Touch. This was the first time B&N let us see behind the scenes. They’ve never done crap like Netronix. It’s all been designed to their specs, not off the shelf. Where have you seen any screen like the one in the NookColor? No one else had that.

          And people forget how far B&N went to try to solve a puzzling WiFi problem:
          http://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/the-nook-touch-1-1-wifi-issue/

          It’s too bad CS doesn’t normally work like that for them.

  5. One thing I think Nook Media needs to answer is: Where do people shop for ebook readers?
    Looking at the brand churn and spotty support at WalMart and Target, I suspect general retailers may not be the best outlets. Electronics chains like Best Buy and Radio Shack, Fry’s, Micro Center, CompUSA? Probably yes. Office supply chains? Maybe? Bookstores…
    Uh, that gets tricky, no? Reports from the Kobo-carrying Indies and B&N’s poor results suggest not.
    And then there is online.
    Kindles are only available online from Amazon but Nooks are increasingly available elsewhere, and not just the B&N ebay shop. Especially the STRs.
    I’m thinking there are a lot of savings to be had by retrenching the B&M presence to one strong partner or two. Maybe Best Buy and either Staples or Office MaxDepot…
    At a minimum, something like $20M in a quarter. 😉

  6. @Nate

    >>>but there are also reportedly extra non-standard stuff that B&N had the factory add during assembly

    Which is why it’s more vivid than other tablets and also shows screen refresh flicker in videos. So my point stands that no one else has that screen. Base doesn’t matter. How they differentiated it does. Next!

  7. One bold move that could save them–for the short term–is simply give away all their devices and make revenue on the lower-overhead ebook sales. Then marketing as a desireable ebook destination.

    Unfortunately for them, I don’t see any Prime-type or subscription service for voluntarily locking in their customers. The Titanic is simply moving too fast to miss the ice, no matter which way you roll the rudder.

  8. Thank you! I was wondering if it was only me who could figure out that B&N needs to unlock their device and get rid of their crazy expensive app store. By looking at the info in the report released last week by a no doubt highly paid research firm I could tell they weren’t getting it. It just seems obvious that given roughly equal functionality and price people are going to purchase the device that is most usable. I can puzzle that one out, and I’m not that smart.

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