From what I can tell, B&N hasn't had a booth at BEA in either of the last 2 years, so their absence this year is not all that unusual. But I was reminded of their absence when visiting the booths of Sony and Samsung.
It seems that Samsung and Sony are deeply interested in ebooks. I already knew that from the Epub3 supported reading apps they had each released over the past year, but this point was driven home by the well-staffed booths. They each had large booths in the digital zone and they were happy to show off their latest hardware. And that brings me to why they are here.
Samsung's booth was quite elaborate, and they even had a private room for meeting with publishers:
Sony's booth wasn't as big, but it was still a decent size:
For some time now I have been wondering why these two tech giants are bothering with ebooks. It's not a terribly large market, but they have each invested in staying on the cutting edge. Given that the return likely wouldn't justify the investment, I didn't see the reason for the continued interest. But now I do.
Based on what I was told I think that Samsung and Sony are into ebooks for the same reason that Apple is into ebooks. It's not about the content for its own sake; it's about the hardware the content is consumed on.
All 3 of these tech giants makes smartphones and tablets, and their ebook efforts are part of a general effort at tapping into the content markets that exist on their hardware. Basically they see Amazon making money from apps running on their hardware and they want a cut of the action.
I believe at least one of my reader suggested this as a possibility some time back, but it wasn't until I spoke to the reps myself that I really understood it. And now that I do understand it I also realize that this is going to have an effect on the ebook market.
Samsung and Sony (and Apple, for that matter) aren't investing in ebooks to make money in ebooks, so even if they don't make much money they won't be going away. They'll still be investing in ebooks even if they are merely breaking even, and that means that you can't write them off just because Samsung and Sony only make up a negligible share of the market.
If nothing else, Samsung and Sony are hungrier than Nook Media, and they also have a potential install base of millions of devices. That, and hype, was all Apple had going for it when iBooks was launched and look where Apple is now.