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Preparing for the Inevitable Kobo-Nook Deal

Here’s a scenario which I briefly considered using for a 1 April prank before I realized that it was too plausible and too depressing to make for a good joke.

I am referring to what is now all but inevitable: the deal where Kobo takes over the Nook platform and either runs it for Barnes & Noble, or simply acquires the Nook customer list so that B&N can shut down its ebook division.

Launched in the summer of 2009, the Nook division reached its peak three years later before imploding during the 2012 holiday season. It began a downward spiral which has not stopped to this day, leading us to the point where the Nook Store was generating less revenue for publishers and authors than Kindle Unlimited. (The latter paid out $154.8 million in B&N’s FY2016. )

B&N responded to the decline by reducing staff and outsourcing everything they could. Nook operations were outsourced to an Indian company, the last Nook ereader was licensed from Netronix, and Nook Android tablets come from Samsung and a Chinese OEM.

B&N’s Nook losses continue, so at this point their only option left is to either one, sell the customer accounts; or two, let another company run the Nook platform on B&N’s behalf.

When I first broached this issue in 2014 I thought the former was a strong possibility, but three years later we also have the example of the Kobo-Tolino deal as a second possible option.

Earlier this month Kobo announced that Kobo would replace Deutsche Telecom as the tech partner for Tolino, a deal which will ultimately lead to Kobo apps and hardware replacing Tolino’s current hardware and reading apps.

Kobo and B&N could negotiate a similar deal for the Nook platform.  (This, coincidentally, could look a lot like the deal between Kobo and Borders before the latter went bankrupt in mid-2011.)

Let’s consider the two scenarios separately.

In scenario one Kobo gets everyone’s email addresses and other details as well as a list of the ebooks we each have in our accounts. Nook users are given the option of merging the data into our existing Kobo accounts, or creating a new Kobo account.

Under this scenario, the existing Nook apps will stop working, and readers will have to install Kobo apps to access the ebooks they purchased. The Nook hardware will lose its integration with its bookstore, but it will still work as stand alone devices.

And most importantly, former Nook users will lose any ebooks which were in their Nook account but cannot be found in the Kobo store.

To be more specific: under this scenario consumers will lose our Fictionwise purchases, and others.  (I have 450 titles in my Nook account which had been transferred from Fictionwise, so this will definitely hurt me.)

This scenario sucks on many levels, but the upside is that it is a clean death for Nook and a clean break between a user’s old Nook account and their new Kobo account.

The second scenario, on the other hand, includes a degree of uncertainty which should worry you.

In scenario two, Kobo will become the tech partner which runs the Nook platform for Barnes & Noble. everything will continue to run as it was before, but the Nook platform will slowly be replaced bit by bit with similar functionality in the Kobo platform as B&n stops wanting to pay for stuff.

The Nook apps will be replaced when B&N decides to cut back on the maintenance and updates, and at some point the last Nook will either be retired or updated to run Kobo firmware.

On the one hand Nook users won’t lose their accounts, but on the other hand services and features will break as each bit gets replaced.

But on the gripping hand, the most likely outcome in the long run for this scenario will be Kobo merging the Nook platform into its platform.

So basically the two scenarios will lead to the same result, with the only difference being the amount of pain suffered by Nook users and how long that pain lasts.

Which would you prefer: the sudden, acute death of the Nook platform or the drawn-out death?

Nook users won’t get to choose how the Nook platform dies, but they will have to go through one or the other. Which one would be the better option, do you think?

image by JBrazito

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Jeff Mcneill January 22, 2017 um 9:25 pm

Not sure what Kobo would get out of the deal, other than losing a bunch of capital. They (Rakuten) are moving forward by growing platforms and partnerships. Nook the readers would be a redundancy, basically useless, and Nook the ebook store is pretty much the same. There are zero mentions of Microsoft, but that would be the company that could benefit, and you have reported previously that there is an ebook reader in a newer version of IE. Plus, Microsoft has invested in Nook/B&N already so they are privy to the internal deals. The question on their minds are: is it cheaper/faster/easier/better to acquire or build it yourself. Nook sucks in a lot of ways, including for a publisher, while Kobo is improving their platform continually (albeit slowly).

Reader January 22, 2017 um 9:28 pm

B&N’s PDF software is superior to Kobo’s, as you can change font size with the Nook. No, not with scanned PDFs.

Chris January 23, 2017 um 3:20 pm

Kobo already have access to better PDF software via Adobe, don’t they? They just don’t seem interested in using it, so I doubt they’d be interested in taking any B&N code.

Nate Hoffelder January 23, 2017 um 3:40 pm

Kobo’s PDF software is terrible.

I do not have recent experience with the nook and PDFs but it could not possibly be that bad.

Chris January 26, 2017 um 1:19 am

I know what they Kobo are using is terrible. That they already have something better from Adobe that they *could* use, but don’t, tells me Kobo aren’t bothered by it being terrible and that B&N’s PDF code is also of no interest to Kobo.

BDR January 23, 2017 um 8:58 pm

Kobo would get … given the right deal … B&N’s massive distribution in America. Kobo could *easily* take half or more of Amazon’s share here if they had a distribution system that didn’t go through Canada.

Paul January 22, 2017 um 9:43 pm

It will be a shame, but if it fixes their awful buying process on their web site, it might be a boon.

Scott Hanson January 23, 2017 um 9:32 am

The Nook app is far superior to the Kindle one. I have over 400 nook books and would love to be able to read them on one of the larger Kobo devices. I would greatly prefer BN securing a deal where Kobo provides the hardware and BN the book store.

Frank January 23, 2017 um 9:47 am

A drawn out process seems better for the customer since they have time to adjust to the new platform. It is too bad that Fictionwise ebooks would be lost in a Kobo deal but something different has to happen to Nook

Yvonne Carder January 23, 2017 um 10:36 am

This makes my chest tight! I’ve loved my Nook and have fought to not switch my library to another platform. I think the worst part would be losing all the stories I’ve purchased over the years. I honestly would be "ok" with either option if I could safely transfer my books to the new account. If not, what’s to stop me going to the giant Kindle?

Suz January 23, 2017 um 12:15 pm

I also have had hopes that Nook would survive but they clearly do not care about their Nook business. Yes, they released a new e-ink reader but how many updates have there been since? Very few. It is as if they felt obligated to put a new one out there but have no interest in fine tuning it to make it able to compete with Kindle and Kobo. If BN won’t care enough about their product, why should their customers remain loyal. I had a Sony first then Nook. I have a Nook library of almost 900 books so I truly wanted them to survive. But because of their lack of attention and interest, I have since moved on to Kobo. My hope is that BN will pass on their customers to Kobo and I can read all of my Nook books on the awesome Kobo Aura One.

James Seger January 23, 2017 um 12:52 pm

Nook is so frustrating, because it looks like even now the company has all they need to be a major competitor. If only they would invest some TLC and hire someone competent.

K Maloney January 23, 2017 um 1:18 pm

If I can’t access my books, which I PAID for and are MINE, I’m going to boycott B&N. My friends chose Kindles, but I have been a loyal B&N customer.

James Seger January 23, 2017 um 6:26 pm

Remember, at this point it is only speculation. It is a good idea to keep downloaded, DRM-free back-ups of any books you buy. Just in case.

Alexander Inglis January 23, 2017 um 6:41 pm

It seems to me that a deal similar to Kobo-Sony would make sense and that, moving forward, B&N would receive a royalty on all accounts tagged originally as coming from BN originally. Indigo-Chapters in Canada still receives a royalty under such an agreement. Nook purchases can already be read on Kobo readers, albeit as a "side-load" unlocked epub.

Jeff Mcneill January 23, 2017 um 8:25 pm

Nate, might be a good time to update

Laura January 23, 2017 um 10:39 pm

Since B&N already drove me into the arms of Kobo a few years ago, I’d prefer the first scenario where my nook books get immediately transferred to my Kobo library. I have them backed-up already so it doesn’t really matter, but it would be nice to be able to directly download them to my Kobo.

frank January 24, 2017 um 8:20 am

I would be hurt by such a change. I have about125 ebooks but also 500 periodicals. What happens to the new stand? Ugh

Nate Hoffelder January 24, 2017 um 8:25 am

You’d probably lose the magazines and newspapers. Kobo has similar titles but matching them up would be more work than kobo would want to invest.

Kate January 25, 2017 um 6:20 pm

B&N never did move my FW books over, although I had accounts at both. Emails asking for help went unanswered.

On the other hand, when Kobo took over the Sony ebookstore, all my titles moved over without a hitch.

The moral is – back everything up. Don’t depend on your retailer to keep copies of your books for you.

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