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The Nook Store Launched 4 Years Ago Today

nook itunesToday is 20 July 2013, and it is the anniversary of an event that everyone has probably forgotten (except me).

Barnes & Noble launched their ebookstore on this date in 2009 (or so Gizmodo reported).

The Nook Store launched with content and with reading apps for most of the major platforms, but no hardware. The first Nook ereader wasn’t launched until November 2009, it had a price tag of $259.

nookwifi[1]2009 was a great year. We were still in the ereader bubble, a time when the ebook market could only go up and a time when the ereader market saw more innovation and more new competitors launch in a single year than we have seen in the 3 years since.

Okay, it was also a time when we saw more harebrained ideas like the Entourage Edge, Spring Design Alex, and Cool-ER. That last was an ebookstore that thought they could succeed with a poorly constructed generic ereader attached to a generic ebookstore (it died in mid-2010).

When this date showed up on my calendar a couple weeks back I set out to write a post that would reflect on how the market has changed in the past 4 years. The idea was to write a post that had the same tone as the Kindle 5th anniversary post from last November (one of my better posts, IMO).

But as I continued to chew on the story I slowly realized that there wasn’t much to say about B&N’s second ebookstore that would not make it look bad when compared to the Kindle Store.

Yes, the Nook Store was B&N’s second venture into ebooks. It’s easy to forget, but B&N was one of the first bookstores to get into ebooks. They sold the Rocket eReader, and as early as the year 2000 they were signing deals with Microsoft to sell ebooks.

7a0b5a57c1741d71_NookColor_Touch.preview[1]That was during the dotcom bubble, so naturally spirits were high and everyone was optimistic that ebooks were the future.

And then Barnes & Noble got out of ebooks on 9 September 2003, citing "limited sales and limited technology".

Frankly, I am not surprised. eBooks were a pain in the ass to produce at that time and they were a pain in the ass to consume; inadequately developed technology will do that to you. They were also expensive, with many publishers pricing their ebooks at the full retail price of a hardcover book.

If you’re wondering why I dredge up such ancient history, bear with me. The reason I am comparing B&N’s ebookstores to the Kindle Store is because of what B&N did in 2003 and what Amazon did in 2004/2005 around that time.

In 2003, B&N looked at the problems of the ebook market and got out of the market. And around that same time In 2004/2005 Amazon looked at the problems of the ebook market and set about fixing them. (And that, folks, is the first reason why Amazon rules the ebook market now and not B&N.)

Update: Chris Meadows challenged me on my assumption on when Amazon entered the ebook market. It turns out Amazon was in ebooks much earlier than I had previously assumed. The Wayback Machine at the IA shows that Amazon sold PDF and MSReader ebooks from April 2001 to sometime in February or March 2006.

And after Amazon fixed the problems and basically created the modern ebook market from scratch, B&N jumped back in and has been trying to play catch up ever since.

  • Amazon had an ebookstore, so B&N said "me, too!". They bought Fictionwise and then later shut it down (rather than turning it into the Nook Store International).
  • Amazon had ereaders, so B&N had to have them (hang the hundreds of millions in capital investment).
  • Amazon had a self-pub platform, so B&N had to invest in PubIt and then Nook Press.
  • Amazon (and Kobo) had HTML5-based reading apps, so B&N said "me, too!" and released Nook for Web (and then abandoned development while it was still in beta).
  • Amazon had Kindle Singles, so B&N said "me, too!" and announced Nook Snaps (but did nothing with it for 18 months).

Looking back at all of B&N’s questionable decisions, don’t you wish they had taken a different path and instead tried to be great at just one thing rather than being marginally competent at many?

Can you imagine what it would have been like if B&N had focused on being great at selling content which could be read on pretty much any ereader? I doubt they would be in the hole they’re in now.

Today is the 4th anniversary of B&N’s second ebookstore, and based on the latest reports there is a good chance that it will suffer the same fate as its predecessor. And to make matters worse, there is even a chance that it will take the whole of B&N with it.

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wayne leong July 20, 2013 um 12:26 pm

A couple days ago, Best Buy had a daily deal special of the Nook Simple Touch for $49.00 . Would be interesting to find out how many saw the one day web ad and bought one that day .

Ani July 20, 2013 um 12:35 pm

"as early as the year 200 they were signing deals with companies like Microsoft…"

Really? You may want to add a "0".

Nate Hoffelder July 20, 2013 um 12:59 pm

Little known fact: B&N was the official ebook partner for the First Council of Nicaea.

Chris July 20, 2013 um 2:17 pm

All the bad business decisions by B&N were made by B&N. Amazon is powerhouse and rules the global ebook market hands down. B&N on the other hand has lost in the ebook market and will be going bankrupt and liquidate its stores. Things could have been different for them. I guess all the employees of B&N who will be losing their jobs have Riggio and Lynch to thank for that.

Doug July 22, 2013 um 3:39 pm

B&N has separated the e-book business off into NOOK Media. The B&N bookstores have been profitable, are profitable, and their profitability is increasing. B&N is not currently providing any funding to NOOK Media. At the moment, there’s no reason at all to believe that the B&N bookstores are going bankrupt.

It’s certainly possible that B&N might decide to provide some funding to NOOK Media, but given Len Riggio’s interest in buying the bookstores but not NOOK Media, I can’t imagine that it would be a significant amount.

Say what you want about the future of NOOK Media, but (given present conditions) B&N’s bookstores are going to be around for some time to come.

Chris Meadows July 20, 2013 um 10:18 pm

Wasn’t Amazon trying some things with PDF e-books around the turn of the century too? I know they participated in the whole "Riding the Bullet" thing.

Nate Hoffelder July 20, 2013 um 10:25 pm

I don’t know about the turn of the millenium but I do know Amazon had an early ebookstore in 2005 and 2006. It sold (I think) PDF, and MSLit. They shut it down in (I think) 2006 in anticipation of launching the Kindle Store.

Edit: Amazon could well have offered that PDF. They did a number of different ebook projects before the Kindle Store, including Kindle Shorts. This was a basic ebookstore that sold text files (short stories, usually). It launched in 2005 and closed in 2010.

Nate Hoffelder July 20, 2013 um 11:25 pm

According to the Wayback Machine, Amazon has been in ebooks since at least April 2001:

flyingtoastr July 21, 2013 um 12:55 am

Funny how Sony beat Amazon to the punch "fixing" the ebook market a year before the Kindle even premiered.

Nate Hoffelder July 21, 2013 um 6:51 am

Sony didn’t fix shit. Their ebookstore was terrible and the software was an exercise in masochism.

Oh, and Sony released the Librie in Japan in 2004.That was a horrible, terrible, bad idea that almost no customers liked.

fjtorres July 21, 2013 um 2:08 am

…and then promptly threw away that early lead to run with the herd as yet another generic ADEPT vendor.
B&N isn’t the only player to badly misplay good cards.

Chris Meadows July 21, 2013 um 10:02 am

Sometimes I think Sony’s only still around at all because it happened onto a good thing with the Playstation series. It got complacent after the Walkman. It did have some good products with the Clié, and was probably smart to dump PalmOS before the crash happened, but hasn’t had a portable hit since.

fjtorres July 21, 2013 um 11:08 am

The PS3 was hardly a rollicking success; it was a gold plated disaster at launch that took three redesigns to jettison enough features to get the cost structure to breakeven. For most of its lifecycle it’s been bleeding their coffers instead of adding to them.
They may have more luck with the PS4 but only because they’ve ditched every last bit of Kutaragi design philosophy and are going with a PC in drag, exactly what their fanboys have spent over a decade deriding the XBOX for. They’ve even cooked up a Kinect imitation to go with their Wiimote imitation.
They haven’t given up on their innovation culture but they indeed haven’t produced anything worthy of the term in a generation.

Thomas July 21, 2013 um 2:12 pm

Sony owns the Blu-Ray format. Everyone who buys a player, movie, burner, or blank disk from any company pays money to Sony. That kind of domination in one market can pay for a lot of failures in other markets.

Sony always pushes proprietary formats in their products. Most don’t dominate their fields, but the ones that do produce enough revenue to pay for a lot of failures.

Nate Hoffelder July 21, 2013 um 2:46 pm

Yes, Sony owns a disc format which is already being supplanted by digital downloads. I’m sure that’s going to be worth a lot.

Thomas July 21, 2013 um 5:02 pm

It’s worth a lot right now, and it’s still the highest capacity storage format for digital downloads. Besides, physical disks are going to last quite a while. The infrastructure for streaming HR content isn’t available in a lot of places and won’t be for years.

Also, Sony has their own digital downloading service (Video Unlimited), an ad-supported streaming service (Crackle), and is planning to launch a HR streaming service this year. They have their hands in all sorts of pies.

fjtorres July 21, 2013 um 5:57 pm

Sony makes something like 25 cents off every BD movie disk.
They make around $10 off every PS3 game.
So they sacrificed control of the console game market (and lost billions over the first two years) to leech off the movie market.
Yup, there is a very good reason Kutaragi got fired for the PS3.

fjtorres July 21, 2013 um 6:00 pm

Like $4.7 Billion reasons.

Last I heard, the PS3 finally broke even over its lifecycle last year.

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