Even eBookstores Are Doomed

So, here is what’s bothering me about Barnes & Noble coming out with the Nook: When the music industry was changing due to digital distribution, we didn’t see Tower Records come out with an MP3 player. That would have been the equivalent move, right?

If, as I expect it to, the economy gets worse and even fast food suffers (and it has been; I’ve seen two places close in the past two months), would we expect McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, et al, to start selling a line of at-home cookware?

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.


  1. Dan27 October, 2010

    Incidentally, Amazon serves the function of discovery for me much of the time. I can look at popularity lists or even just free books, then look for more books by authors that I find I like. Additionally, the reviews are usually pretty helpful. Your theoretical discovery site/engine would ideally not only need the ability to find books but also to rate them (somewhat impartially).

    1. iplaythisgame27 October, 2010

      Amazon’s model of consolidation seems to work alright. If it were not for the file format, I would have bought a kindle.
      I think the ability to have a centralized media portal like amazon uses that catalogues and syncs reading material across devices will continue to be popular.

  2. Zigwalski27 October, 2010

    I believe you gave poor examples to what Barnes and Noble is doing with the Nook. They are building a brand for the future. They are also trying to make sure there is a customer base for this future.

    A better example for them is Apple. If anyone knows anything about Apple computers is that the company went through many growing pains. They had success in the early 80s the floundered and almost died in the 90s until they came out with the iMac. The iMac saved the company and took them in a new direction.

    The iPod and music is what saved Apple and built the company that we have today. This is the same thing that Barnes and Noble is doing as well as Amazon with the Kindle. Sell a device and get people to buy your medium.

    Tower Records would not be able to come out with an MP3 player mostly because I am sure they would not have thought to do so. Having talked to Management of Waxie Maxies in the 90s, there was a belief that the record industry would always exist because it always weathered bad economic times in the past. By the time that MP3s and Itunes came along, it would be too late for these companies (you have to admit, companies are slow to change) to do anything about it.

    Barnes and Noble is moving faster and better than Borders in trying to prepare for the future. Perfectly? Maybe not but they are at least trying.

    As for the rest of your article, you are very much correct. Read Ben Bova’s, Cyberbooks. It is a book from the 90s that talks about the same ideas you have about cutting out the middlemen.

    Also, Amazon and Barnes and Noble already have mechanisms in place for writers to submit their works directly to them to be sold.

    Masses of people will always gravitate to larger sites to download books. Especially if their ereaders of choice happen to be Nooks or Kindles. Again, look at iTunes. If what you said is true, people would be downloading most of their music from musical artists not from iTunes.

  3. PeterW28 October, 2010

    What Zigwalski said: the tight linking of iTunes and the iPod is what made the device so successful.

    Using a tedious discovery process is much more of a pain for a consumer…and there are also going to be complicated issues of payment, delivery, returns, and quality control with tens of thousands of separate author websites out there.

    And of course there’s not going to be a handy rating service, either.

    Plus, how do you really envision discovery working? It would be easy to “discover” a book you already knew about – but how will you discover new books that you don’t know about but might like?

    The fact is, we have the technology to do this now. The reason we don’t is because it’s a bad idea.


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