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These are some interesting ideas, but Passive Guy is skeptical about many of them and, in particular, Barnes & Noble’s ability to pull off the changes needed to equal or exceed Amazon even if it tried.
First of all, disruptive change is very, very hard. You don’t just schedule a company-wide meeting and announce you’re going to be a disruptive company going forward.
Technology disruptors tend to be people who get fired from established organizations. The only way many disruptors manage to survive to reach success is if their overhead consists of a cheap apartment, an internet connection and discount pizza prices. In the process of figuring out disruption, they’re likely to make big mistakes, the kind of thing that gets you fired from a public company like Barnes & Noble. Don’t forget that Apple fired Steve Jobs.
The whole idea of Big Publishing moving into direct sales to consumers is a loser. It’s a solution to a problem publishers have, not a solution to problems consumers have.
Running a successful ecommerce site requires a great deal of talent and hard work. You don’t develop the necessary skill set pitching category buyers for book store chains or having lunch with agents. Publishers can’t hire serious ecommerce talent because for somebody with real aptitude, working for a big publisher sounds about as sexy as working for a steel mill.
Big Publishing is a business built around selling at wholesale, not retail. The whole agency price-fixing fiasco is typical of the wholesale/cartel mentality. Was anybody thinking about what would please customers? Ham-handed price fixing by Big Publishing has played a key role in opening the doors to successful indie publishing.
If publishers can’t even get retail pricing right, they don’t have the chops to do ecommerce.
Plus, there’s the whole issue of being owned by a big media conglomerate and all the quarterly numbers pressure that entails. If Jeff Bezos had been hired to head up ecommerce for a big publisher, he would have failed. Losses are not permitted when you’re a subsidiary. Neither is failure to consistently increase profits quarter over quarter.
Finally, there’s the whole discoverability problem. Does anybody go to Google to find fiction?
A couple of years ago, the PG offspring who is an SEO genius, did a bunch of work for one of Mrs. PG’s novel websites for terms related to the subject of her book. After a few months, the site was #1 on Google for all sorts of terms that were descriptive of the novel.
Traffic? Nada. Sales through the site? Nada.
PG’s conclusion: Google isn’t any good for book discovery and very few people use it as such.
What do people use to discover books? Amazon. Amazon is the best search engine for books and it operates much differently than Google.
As has been discussed here before, the Nook store is pretty lousy for book discovery. If Barnes & Noble wants to take a bite out of Amazon, that would be one thing to start improving right away.
PG’s assessment of BN is that the in-store Nook boutiques are very important for selling Nooks and something Amazon can’t duplicate.
PG’s assessment of BN ebook sales is that their market share is not nearly as high as BN claims. He suspects most ebook sales are driven by customer capture arising from Nook ownership. There is nothing wrong with that, but BN’s ebook sales, whatever they are, are not a function of excellent design of the Nook online store.
A big problem with BN’s ebook strategy is that it’s been closing bookstores and will probably continue to do so. No bookstores = no Nook boutiques. I don’t think you can put a Nook boutique in a mall kiosk and generate the same sales punch as the boutique carries in a full-up bookstore.