Home » Google, Nook, Tablets » Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet Looks Like It’s In More Trouble Than Ever

Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet Looks Like It’s In More Trouble Than Ever

6 May 2013

From Business Insider:

Barnes & Noble got a lot of buzz a few days ago when it released a big new software update for its Nook HD tablet.

The software update adds the Google Play store, which is the online shop for Android phones where Google sells apps, music, movies, magazines, etc. That makes the Nook update a great deal for Nook owners. They now have access to much more content than they did through Barnes & Noble’s own limited app and content store.

. . . .

But it’s also a bad sign for Barnes & Noble, which is still working through the uneasy transition from physical bookstore to hardware manufacturer and seller of online goods and services.

. . . .

[At first], instead of using Google’s services and apps, Barnes & Noble tried to create its own Nook-branded ecosystem.

It didn’t really work. The first Nook tablet didn’t have an online store for buying music, movies, TV shows, etc. You could load content from other sources using a SD card or plugging the Nook into your computer, but that was hardly as convenient as directly downloading stuff like you could with the Kindle Fire. The Nook HD, which launched last fall, was Barnes & Noble’s first device to finally include a way to directly download some of that content, but the selection wasn’t nearly as good as Amazon’s.

. . . .

Barnes & Noble’s Nook division continued to collapse, with digital content and device sales down 26%, according to the company’s last earnings report.
Like Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s strategy was to sell its devices for super cheap –– the Nook HD now starts at $149 –– and lock users into an app and content ecosystem. The new Nook update essentially turns the Nook into just another bargain Android tablet packed with Google’s services and content, and that’s really bad news for Barnes & Noble if it wants to continue selling its own digital content on its own hardware.

Barnes & Noble won’t make a penny off stuff people buy through Google Play; all that revenue goes through Google instead.

. . . .

It’s a major Catch 22 for the Nook business. Either offer the best stuff through Google Play and miss out on revenue from digital content, or risk losing customers to Amazon because the Kindle Fire offers more content and apps for about the same price.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG recently read another article about Nook which stated Nook has about 25% of the ebook market. As PG recalls, this is a number that Barnes & Noble puts out. He believes this vastly overstates Nook’s real market share.

Google, Nook, Tablets

24 Comments to “Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet Looks Like It’s In More Trouble Than Ever”

  1. I’m always flabbergasted by the people who champion the Nook because it uses the EPUB file format and not the “evil” Amazon .azw format, because (according to them) when Amazon decides to arbitrarily screw you over somehow, the Kindle users are “stuck” while the Nook users can get books from other sources.

    Whenever I hear these comments, I always envision the commenter pointing and laughing at me while I’m in a plane as it climbs into the air because I’m stuck on this flight, while he flashes past me in a flaming aircraft plummeting towards the ground…

    • Because open standards are better than closed standards. Almost always.

    • Longer answer: Internet Explorer.

      HTML is supposed to be an open standard. It’s designed so that anyone can open a browser and go to a web site and view content, and it’s *supposed* to look the same every time.

      But Microsoft and Internet Explorer really screwed that up for everyone, because they wanted everyone using *their* browser, not anyone else’s. So they added a bunch of proprietary tags that only their browser supported, and encouraged designers to use those tags. Suddenly people who used OS7/8/9 (the old Apple OS) or OS/2 or Linux or Unix or AmigaDOS or any of the other operating systems with browsers would go to a site and it would look broken. Or they’d get a message that said “This web page requires Internet Explorer to View.”

      And of course Netscape started doing the same thing because when Microsoft started Netscape had the biggest marketshare, so they figured they could compete. And the result was that web designers had to choose–they could either create advanced web pages that worked for one browser, or they could create a degraded mode website that anyone could access.

      Most designers, for a while, chose IE. Because 90% of the people used it. Which was great for 90% of the people. Sucked to be in the 10%. I was in the 10%.

      It’s all come full circle, though. IE is not nearly the powerhouse it was, Firefox and Chrome and the Apple browser have much stronger marketshares, smartphone browsers are now starting to get noticed, and because there are all these different devices people are using OPEN STANDARDS is the practical solution. If everyone can design to HTML standards, and every browser can *read* HTML standards, then a site built to standards will work with the most people.

      Amazon doesn’t like open standards. They want a proprietary ebook standard because they want to be the one selling you ebooks–not Nook, not Smashwords, not iTunes, just them. They want you to use a Kindle and they want you using their file format because if that works, hey look, they get the whole market. Which is great for them. It has worked very well for them so far.

      But I’ve already been in the position of someone who has been locked out by closed standards, and I’m not going to put my eggs in that basket because I like being able to look myself in the eye when I’m shaving each morning. I want someone to be able to choose whatever e-reader they like–like Moon Reader, which is available in the Google Play store, and can use voice synthesis to read an epub aloud without having to deal with whispersync or audio files, or Aldiko, or any other number of readers that are free and unconnected with any specific company–and read my book. It is a basic value of content creation that I hold to.

      Someday I may be forced to give it up, because someday it may be that Amazon is the only game in town. But until that day I will always look to supporting the open standards first, because it means anyone can play.

    • As above, open standards are preferable.

      Back when the Nook Color first came out, the support for EPUB is what made me choose it over the Kindle–I have far too many EPUB files laying around, and getting them onto the Nook Color proved simple and easy.

      And now when I move to another tablet (which I suppose I’ll do eventually) I have all my files in a format that’s readable by every ereader app out there. I see no reason to think that my choice of the Nook Color over the Kindle was a bad one.

      Truth is, none of us who bought into the Nook were buying into Barnes & Noble the way that Kindle owners were buying into Amazon. I’m not trashing those who chose the Kindle–it’s a perfectly decent device. But no one who chose the Nook is even remotely “crashing into the ground.” They’ll buy a new tablet or ereader, move all their files over to their new device, and that will be that. No conversions in Calibre necessary.

      That’s the beauty of open standards.

      • I think “open” tends to be an illusion, and is really actually closed in almost every instance.

        Amazon may use a proprietary format for Kindle, but what most people fail to mention–as here–is that they invested heavily in that format, and perfecting it, quite a while before publishers focused in on ePub as their “standard.” In fact, in a lot of ways, publishers’ choice of ePub as “standard” seemed more reactionary to Amazon’s purchase of Mobipocket Creator than anything else. It’s not as though publishers are known for innovation.

        As with Apple, buying into Amazon is about buying into an ecosystem and an experience–not devices and files. Why is choosing Amazon smarter or better than choosing Barnes & Noble? Because the former cares a lot about its platform and experience, whereas the latter is flailing about at strategies and unlikely to survive more than a few more years.

        Further, this “open/closed” thinking seems misguided given that what’s really of concerned is not the openness of the standard but the DRM on files. No DRM on a Kindle file? Change it to whatever you want.

        I’m not sure Amazon wants its AZW format solely because they want readers to buy only from them. From experience, .mobi and .prc files are much easier to code than .epub files. I also think that it’s part of Amazon’s desire to maintain the best possible reading experience for their readers, and offer the best service. “Open” can be great, but it can also be awful. I tried “open”–I bought a Samsung Vibrant, which ran Android, from T-Mobile. Except Samsung put a “skin” over top of it that just bogged things down, and when I needed help, I couldn’t really go to Samsung, Google, or T-Mobile–all of whom blamed the others. One of the “benefits” of Android is being able to customize it, and so I flashed different ROMs and kernels on it, but when things went south there, I had to go to forums and hope some other users might be able to answer a question and troubleshoot with me.

        Then I got an iPhone. When something goes wrong with my iPhone (happened only once–the power button lost its ‘click’ mechanism), I go to the local Apple store, and they fix it straightaway.

        Sometimes, when you put all your eggs in one basket, it simply makes it easier to carry all your eggs. I have a lot of eggs. It’s either a basket or juggling, and I don’t have the coordination to juggle.

        • This is a bit revisionist, yes?

          ePub v2 was introduced in 2007, which does in fact place it *after* Amazon bought Mobi from Mobipocket SA in 2005. However, ePub v2 superseded the Open eBook Structure (OEBPS), which was introduced in 1999. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, there was an open standard for ebooks that existed a full six years before Amazon bought Mobi.

          OEBPS was a subset of XML — essentially XHTML for ebooks. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, other than it being an open standard that absolutely anybody could use if they wanted to, and it probably didn’t formally support DRM (I don’t remember specifically).

          I’m sure Amazon finds it convenient to push the myth that their format came first because “there was nothing but Adobe out there” but it’s just not true.

          • I’d still argue it was more strategy than anything. You’re right that OEBPS was introduced in 1999, but how widely was it actually used? Mobipocket incorporated only a few months after OEBPS, but it was widely used for reading software in PDAs. Amazon bought Mobipocket 7 years later.

            OEBPS, meanwhile, was developed by SoftBook, who made one of the first ebook readers and who had most of the big publishers on board in their storie. ePub was based on OEBPS, but the internation digital publishers forum didn’t formally make ePub their standard until after Amazon had bought Mobipocket–and likely partly because Adobe had announced it wasn’t going to sell ebook software–and which had been badly locked down in the first place. Adobe Digital Editions was heinous. And hideous.

            So big publishers just took what they’d already been using, which had been developed by someone else anyway, and which, again, is not as easy to code as mobi/prc.

            I get what you’re saying, but I just think it’s ultimately false. Amazon has set about actively creating the very best reading experience for readers, and that’s what it’s done. You said that open is preferable to closed “almost always,” and this is one of the situations that bears out the “almost” part of that. Publishers weren’t interested in being open–they were interested in setting themselves in opposition to Amazon, who didn’t roll over for them as easily as Barnes & Noble and Borders always had.

            • I get what you’re saying, but I just think it’s ultimately false.

              Well that pretty much ends this exchange, I think. I promise not to add you to my activism contact list. :)

          • Indeed, Open ebook predates kindle. It served as the basis for the late, lamented, MS Reader format.
            But Mobipocket predates Open Ebook as it goes back to the Palm Pilot. so does eReader, the precursor to the B&N Nook format.
            It’s a long (pre)history for ebooks. ;)

  2. Re: Percent of Nook books sold.

    This is not widespread empirical evidence, but I have friends who have reported very similar results…

    I recently ran a Bookbub ad for the first book in my Urban Fantasy trilogy (the book is still on sale for .99 cents though the ad is over.)

    In the space of an afternoon, I sold 225 copies at Amazon, which brought me to #845 paid in the Kindle store. At the same time, I sold 95 copies at B&N, which landed me at #165 in the Nook store.

    Remember that sales needed to get higher into the rankings are exponential. Using this handy, somewhat accurate calculator – http://kdpcalculator.com/index.php – shows that to rank at 162 in the Kindle store would take 300-550 sales (and I’d personally weight that much closer to 550, based on my sales/ranking above). So B&N, at BEST, is selling 25% of what Amazon sells, and the actuality is probably under 20% – and that’s not adding in Apple, which has at least a similar market share, and Kobo, which is smaller, but growing.

    I’d say B&N accounts for more like 12-15% of the ebook market – or about half what they’re reporting.

    • The 26% share is a two-going-on-three year old brag from B&N during a financial report presser. It predates the Price Fix conspiracy and the four hour price war.

      Current best-guess estimates I’ve seen put B&N at no more than 20% and likely closer to 15% with Apple at 10-12%.

  3. Here’s something to keep in mind.

    Go to Alexa.com. Type in Amazon.com. Look at the Alexa rank.

    Now type in Barnesandnoble.com. Look at the Alexa rank.

    This gives you an idea of the percentage of internet traffic that both Amazon and B&N get. Amazon beats the pants of B&N, because they have a tight operation but also because they sell a lot, lot, lot, lot more than just books. And their books benefit from that, because people are used to going to Amazon for stuff.

    Alexa isn’t the gold standard for measuring internet traffic, but it’s one of the resources people use. A year ago I took those two scores and worked them into a spreadsheet with my sales on Amazon and my sales for B&N, and based on those calculations that I can’t *swear* are accurate, because my math is spotty, it looked like my sales at B&N were *overperforming* based on the Alexa scores for traffic, even though I was selling more numerically at Amazon.

    It could be my sample size was skewed — I currently don’t sell a lot of titles anywhwere, and I don’t know what number of sales you have to hit before you can start using math reliably.

    But this is confusing me compared to another thread where it was reported that Amazon only had 6% of the market. (This was a statistic that was rolled out to counter the idea that Amazon had a monopoly in publishing, I believe). If Amazon only has 6% how does B&N even come close to 12 or 25?

  4. In real world terms–aka, voting with the wallet–the whole epub vs mobi debate is meaningless.

    In the real world, mainstream consumers start their their ebook platform deision tree with one simple question: Amazon, yay or nay? 60-plus percent say yay.
    The epub forks then fight over the remaining 35% or so.
    It seems to break down at Nook 15%–Apple 10%–Kobo 5%–others 5% (Google, Sony, Indies, etc).

    The “Industry standard” highly interoperable Adobe ADEPT, tops out at a generous 10% (ignoring the fact that a good portion of Kobo ebook sales are in their own proprietary KEPUB fork.)
    The 35% epub share ignores that Apple no longer claimes iBook format is epub and do not intend to follow the “standard” in the future.

    So, yes! Lets hear it for the wonders of the magical, interoperable epub!
    (Shrug)

    Lost in the debate? People buy ebooks, not epubs or mobis.
    Like it or not the masses care about format as much as they care about DRM. Zilch.

    • Yep. People using Internet Explorer didn’t much care about open standards in 2000 either. Fortunately, the people who did care dug in every time someone gleefully pointed that out, and eventually we won more than we lost. We still haven’t actually *won*, but we’re certainly not where we were.

      We’re fighting a similar battle over the Microsoft Office format (vs. ODF) and we’re not doing nearly as well, but we’re still inching forward. Even though, at the end of the day, most people just don’t care.

      So while I certainly hate having to fight the same fights over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, I will if I have to.

      • I can understand techies fighting over specs and standards.
        But techies’ concerns do not automatically become readers’ concerns or authors’ concerns.
        Life sucks, yes.
        Then we die.
        Most of us prefer not to waste lifespan on quixotic quests.

        And, historically, those fights *are* quixotic: market forces have *always* trumped techie committee standards. That is why the internet runs on TCP/IP, not OSI/GOSIP.
        Right now, there are even odds epub3 ends up right down there with SGML and the other similar failed “superior” techs like OS/2, Amiga, NextStep, Pascal, NC Computing, etc.

  5. I have one. I like it. I also have an iPad, but I find it much more awkward to read on that (although my husband is used to it).

    From the viewpoint of someone who works in digital, Amazon obviously has a number of advantages–not least that they started online and understand that business model. However, whenever I read articles on PV, I get a undercurrent (from both PV and many commenters) that seem as though they are actively rooting against B&N staying in business.

    I use both, and let’s just remember competition (even if it’s not close competition) only benefits consumers. Anyone who hopes B&N goes out of business is a fool.

    • I’m just frustrated that B&N isn’t even doing a good job of trying compete! They recently rolled out a fancy new self-publisher platform, touting it as this huge upgrade… and it had almost nothing that self-publishers wanted (no ability for non-US authors to get on the Nook platform, no pre-sale buttons – which both Kobo and Apple have, no ability to set a title to free – again, both Kobo and Apple offer this). Basically it was some new graphics to display sales information.

      Not only that, but there were a few serious bugs that it took them a couple weeks to iron out, and their Pubit/Nook Press customer service for authors is non-existent.

      That said, my B&N sales are growing decently, and I *hope* they stay in business, for everyone’s sake.

      • Yeah, most of my screaming at B&N ebooks is because they pull some really, really, really… annoying stunts — and I’m talking about them doing it to me-as-potential-customer.

        For their brick and mortar store, they’ve never been anything but helpful and polite.

  6. I’m not defending them, but I work with a lot of big companies on tech projects. Unfortunately, that’s pretty par for the course. (Look at publishing in general!) Amazon started up online and just gets it. That is why they are a giant.

    Yes, I agree it’s unfortunate they don’t do a better job.

  7. The tablet sale was just an attempt to liquidate assets. B&N lost money on every one of those, and they won’t earn it back. This would seem to be them shoring up the numbers to look better than reality in preparation of… something.

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