Nook Gets a Reprieve Under Daunt

When B&N was acquired by a venture capital firm last year, and James Daunt named CEO, many feared that he would shutter B&N struggling digital division. Daunt was seen as anti-ebook, after all, and Waterstones ebook sales certainly did not thrive under his leadership (in fact, since Waterstones’ Overdrive-powered ebookstore was closed way back in 2016, the bookseller had no ebook sales).

I had been wondering if B&N would even bother to  ship another Nook model, or just make my April Fools Day joke come true, and now it would appear we have an answer.

The Bookseller published an interview of Daunt on Friday where he said:

He also referenced the US e-book operation  Nook, part of Barnes & Noble. “Evidently it has been helped by the pandemic, but things have turned around for Nook. The perception that I am anti-e-books is wrong. I am very in favour of them if I can sell them, and I have not been able to do that [in the UK]. One of the things where I differ from my immediate predecessor at B&N is that I consider the ability to sell e-books to be a great strength, and the company had stopped investing in Nook. That will change. We will make Nook very much part of what we do [in the US].”

He said questions about selling e-books in the UK had been parked during the coronavirus crisis, but added that it would be looked at again. “I wouldn’t hold your breath, but all other things being equal, it is something we should aspire to do. We sell an awful lot of e-books in the US.”

I know that Mark Williams has made a big deal about Daunt supposedly rewriting history about his being anti-ebook, and I think Williams is mistaken.

The problem with labeling Daunt as anti-ebook is that it lumps him in the same group with the major US trade publishers. The Big Five actively sabotaged their ebook sales, and even engaged in a conspiracy to to rig ebook prices, but Daunt has never engaged in any action showing that degree of hostility to ebooks.

I would instead say that Daunt was really good at selling print books, and really into the print book buying experience. I would say based on his public statements that it’s not that he hated ebooks so much as he knew how to sell print books, and could grow a business built on physical bookstores, while ebooks required a different bag of tricks.

To give you an analogy, folks, I do not know how to play a cello, but that doesn’t make me anti-cello. It just means I am doing other things. The same applies to Daunt.

That said, we live in a post pandemic world. Retail is going to change radically in the next few years, and Daunt’s new opinion on ebooks reflects that fact that he is building a new business in a new era, one in which ebooks will likely be more important than they were this time last year.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

15 Comments

  1. Disgusting Dude14 June, 2020

    As you said, ebooks require a different bag of tricks.
    Problem is, knowing how to sell print doesn’t guarantee he can figure out how to sell ebooks. Not in time to achieve any significant boost. And not with what he has to work with.

    The most he can do is roll back some of tbe stupid things the Riggio regime did, like limiting/preventing discrete downloads, ereader partitioning, downfating Indie ebooks, etc. But at this point, who is going to notice or even care?
    Store shoppers? The stores themselves are barely hanging on. And the lockdowns aren’t helping.
    B&N.com shoppers? They’re not exactly legion…
    People owning Nook ereaders but buying ebooks from Kobo or Google?
    Amazon’s share is solid and not in play.
    Apple’s share isn’t in play either, so where are new Nook customers coming from? Kobo?
    Most old Nook fans have moved one.
    Whatever he can do will be too little,too late: with Agency he has no room for micropayments or even BOGO, so what can he do?
    Riddle that first.

    Is he going to run ads all over on TV or all over the internet?
    How is he going to counter Prime? Kindle Unlimited? (Never mind the $400m a year payouts, but rather the million-plus exclusive titles vying for the payouts.)
    What can Nook bring to the table to grow their share of the market?
    Click their heels together and repeat “We’re not Amazon, we’re not Amazon, we’re not…”

    The time to bet on Nook was in 2010 when it had 25% market share. 2020 and 4% is ten years too late.

    Daunt is just looking to keep Nook from shrinking further because right now at B&N every last nickel matters.

    Reply
  2. Paul14 June, 2020

    There are a couple of things he could do to turn things around.

    1. Make the experience better than a kindle. Amazon seems to be resting on its laurels a bit over the user experience. It could be tweaked to make it more effective.
    2. Tied into that, the academic market.
    3. Make it easier to find and sell ebooks.

    Reply
    1. Disgusting Dude15 June, 2020

      How exactly?
      Those are generalities, goals, not strategies or tactics.
      What specific moves is he going to do that will make Prime subscribers give up Kindle for Nook?
      What specific moves are they going to make shopping at B&N better than Amazon? Their non-existent AI tech?
      Handwaving doesn’t make up for lack of capabilities.

      When B&N got into ereaders they didn’t even know they using other people’s patents witbout paying and whined it was unfair when they were sued for payment. eReaders are a technology product but instead of building up an inhouse tech base, B&N under Riggio outsourced everything. That doesn’t give Daunt anything to compete with. All he can do is hire some Chinese company to build another generic gadget and hire a company in India to provide the software and support.

      What else can he do?
      Specifics!

      Reply
      1. Chuck Dee15 June, 2020

        In general, that’s what he hires high priced consultants to help with. But just off the top of my head, the advantage is that he has a store front and sales associates to help. They’re all geared towards the physical, but there are people that love to browse the store, but would rather deal with e-books. I’m one of those people.

        One thing that is obvious is that he could leverage his store and his app to his advantage. One area that is a pain point to me is that the app is not integrated closely with the store. When I see a book that I’d like to get, I find it easier to order the electronic copy from the Amazon app than the Nook app. That’s just criminal. I take a shot of the UPC or the book cover, it finds it on Amazon. Then I can one click it there to purchase it- or take the time to then search it in the Nook by selecting the text. Or I can type it into the Nook app. That’s a lot of potential losses in sale from people that are inclined towards e-books.

        Creative thinking for challenging times.

        Reply
        1. Disgusting Dude15 June, 2020

          You are a rarity.
          And those consultants cost money and what tbey going to do? Tell him to copy Amazpn?
          He can’t. And it’s too late to try 1995 or even 2007 tactics.

          Remember how cheap they bought B&N?
          The stores is why.
          They’re boat anchors.
          And that was before the lockdowns.

          And the staff?
          Did you miss when they fired all the knowledgeable people last year?
          Did you miss how Waterstoneshavea running war withemp!oyees over low pay? And Daunt’s answer was that bookselling can’t pay higher salaries?
          People gripe over Amazon minimum pay ($15 an hour) while ignoring B&N generally pays minimum wage to store staff. That’s why tbey fired the older sfaff.

          The world you envision was dying before the lockdown.
          During the lockdowns B&N laid off most of tbe staff at all but a handful of stores.
          The few stores operating are doing curbside pickup. And you don’t bookish types for that.

          The days of ambling through a bookstore amidst a crowd to see what strikes your fancy are dead and gone.

          Daunt will be lucky to save a fraction of stores so don’t expect those minimum wage untrained personnel to sell anybody on print, much less digital.

          It’s 2020, the age of Covid19, not 1980.

          The good news is the B&N distribution warehouses by themselves are worth more than they paid for B&N so the Investment fund can still make money out of the mess they got into.

          Reply
          1. Chuck Dee15 June, 2020

            You ask for an answer, and then don’t take it for what it is. And no, I’m not a rarity. People like to get out, and a great number of them prefer e-books. That intersection between the two groups is not as small as you impy.

            Reply
            1. Disgusting Dude15 June, 2020

              You are missing the point: it isn’t just a matter of knowing what to do, which he most probably doesn’t (he thinks the US is “under-bookstored”) but of being *able* to do anything that actually helps.

              You do know tbere is a pandemic out there?
              That since march B&N closed most stores?
              That they fired most employees?
              That they’ve paying rent on shuttered stores and delaying payment on books?
              The stores weren’t helping ebook sales when they were generating book sales and before they fired the knoledgeable staff, yet you expect the post pandemic, social distancing shopping experience to do better?

              Last year between hardware and ebooks, Nooks added up to $92M for tbe whole year.

              In a world where Kindle Unlimited paid out nearly $400M and all ebook sales grossed over $2B.

              That is one deep hole.
              No, B&M bookstore lovers aren’t saving that dud.

              They might not even have B&M bookstores to love, in most cities.
              Savor your memories.
              Depending on where you live it may be all you have left after the outbreak finally ends.

  3. Chuck Dee15 June, 2020

    And many of them have re-opened. I know that the local one here (and I live in a not huge town) has re-opened. You asked in your original “What else can he do? Specifics!”. I answered your question. Will it be the pallative? I don’t know. But it is specific, and it is an underserved area. Throwing up straw men to your original argument and changing goal posts doesn’t change that your original question was asked and answered.

    Reply
    1. rcentros15 June, 2020

      Looks like most Barnes & Nobles have reopened (at least in all the cities I’ve checked). Since Barnes & Noble has been purchased by Elliot Management Corporation (a hedge fund) the amount of resources B&N currently holds is not the prime “driver.” It’s whether Elliot Management wants to try to rebuild B&N or break it up for it pieces. So far it looks like their aim is rebuild B&N. So this announcement from the new CEO is good news. They are at least going to try to rebuild the Nook brand. Apparently Daunt sees potential in doing this.

      Reply
  4. Guy15 June, 2020

    I had 2 original gen one nook readers. They dropped support for them. A friend at the time gave me a gen 1 kindle. Kindle still able to buy anything I want with, still supported by amazon.can still read my magazines and books on that device purchased now or in the past.
    I unfortunately used the B&N store to purchase books. And magazine subs…. Then new Nook I got when the shafted their long time clients is easier to use than my new kindle, and has some features the Kindle doesn’t. However I would never buy anything from B&N again.
    There is no trust,. No loyality, and no I don’t want your stupid yearly cost membership because duh it’s not good for anything I would buy from you. (Never valid on ebooks).
    B&N has stated they want to sell more “other goods ” than books. Last time I was on the store it seemed like they were working toward that well.
    Nah as much as Amazon is a horrible corporate entity, B&N doesn’t get any of my business again.

    Reply
  5. rcentros15 June, 2020

    Whether it’s a failure or not, I’m happy that Daunt will (at least) try to increase Nook sales. We need more choice, not less, for eBooks.

    Reply
  6. Xavier Basora16 June, 2020

    Disgusting dude

    One proposal is for Barnes and Noble to negotiate with non English language publishers to sell their books at reasonable prices for Canada and the U.S

    That way I can buy books that right now I can’t because it on an Amazon site i can’t access, out of print or only available on paper

    Reply
  7. LLL17 June, 2020

    Nook is based on Samsung not proprietary Kindle which means they play well with other software like Google Play apps. This in itself can be a good selling point of divergence from Amazon. Then B&N will have to work to rebuild trust that they will put in the effort to support Nook for past customers to return.

    Reply
    1. Nate Hoffelder18 June, 2020

      No, Nook is based on re-branded Chinese hardware. B&N also sells a couple Samsung tablets , but the actual Nook hardware is from elsewhere.

      Reply
      1. Chuck Dee19 June, 2020

        Nate, to his point, there are Samsung Nooks. Those are the only ones that I buy, which is the reason I have not upgraded. The new one is Chinese. But in the past, you’ve had a choice.

        Reply

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