Why B&N Can’t Ever Catch Up to Amazon #2: Usability
Barnes & Noble is probably going to share bad news tomorrow when they release their latest quarterly financial report. I am expecting to hear that Nook sales were poor, and given the general poor financial state and the recent news that B&N CEO Len Riggio has plans to sever the retail stores from the rump of the company, it seems likely that Nook is going to be dead soon.
Today I came across what could be another lesson in why and how Barnes & Noble ran this promising platform into the ground. Not only was B&N incapable of supporting the Nook with decent customer service, according to one librarian the Nook platform is generally difficult to use.
Daniel Messer is the Web Content Manager for the Maricopa County Library District, and for the past month and a half he has been running beginner’s ereader classes at the various branch libraries of the MCLD. He’s been teaching patrons how to get library ebooks on to their new ereader or tablet, and he has special feelings for the Nook. Those feelings would be loathing, disgust, and hatred:
In the last two months, I’ve spent close to 30 hours doing nothing but eReader instruction. I’ve seen them all. I’ve worked on tablets from Apple, Google, Amazon, Polaroid, and some unnamed manufacturer with offices in North Korea. After all, Android runs on everything. I’ve seen eInk devices from Amazon, B&N, Sony, Aluratek, and so on. I’ve helped people install OverDrive Media Console on their phones, computers, and tablets. Pretty soon, I could help people set up library eReading and digital download services on their refrigerators.
In all of that, one set of devices stood above the mad crowds of tech in terms of bad usability, lousy user experience, platform instability, and being generally harder to use than anything else.
Mr Messer goes on to point out that while the iPad, Kindle Fire, or your average Android tablet would require 5, maybe 10 minutes to install the Overdrive app and get ebooks, trying to get ebooks on to the Nook takes a minimum of half an hour.
His overall description of the B&N and their Nook customers is rather graphic, but not too dissimilar from the complaints I have heard about B&N’s customer service.
My Nook sessions displayed for me a relationship between Barnes & Noble and their customers that’s about as healthy as the one between Rihanna and Chris Brown. In both cases, I see someone getting abused and going back for more. In each case, each Nook suffered problems I never had with any other device.
The first problem that Mr Messer encounters with Nooks is that in spite of the fact that B&N has an automatic update, he often encounters Nooks that have never been updated. This might not always be an issue but it can often throw a spanner in the works, In the case of the Nook tablet family he says it can also block the Overdrive app from installing correctly. He also faults the Nook Touch for having a poor browser.
One of his chief complaints is that the Nook and ADE integration works worse than with any other ereader that uses Adobe DE DRM:
Then there’s the interaction with Adobe Digital Editions. With all the other devices, ADE is handled somewhat gracefully in the background (as is the case with the OverDrive app on iOS or Android) or completely avoided (Kindles don’t use ADE). Meanwhile, over on the Nook side of things Nook arrives home early to find its wife in bed with ADE and, rather than being outraged, tries to make a threesome out of it.
Now, I will point out that he could be blaming the Nook platform for problems caused by Adobe DE, but he still has a point about the issues that B&N introduced when they went with their own mutant form of DRM.
And to be perfectly honest, B&N is the one major ereader hardware platform that did poorly this holiday season. Amazon and Kobo reported good news and great news, respectively, while B&N admitted several weeks ago that their sales were down.
Don’t you wonder if customers were buying and returning Nooks because they were too difficult to use, or maybe passing on the hardware because of complaints they heard from friends and relatives?
There has to be some explanation for why B&N Nook failed, and I think this could be one of them. Does anyone else have similar reports of the Nooks being uniquely more difficult to use?
Anyone who has used or supported more than one ereader at a time and can contrast the usability can probably tell me if the complaints described above are off base. I want to hear what you think – librarians, teachers, and owners of multiple ereaders especially.
What do you think?
image by lib-girl