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The Nook’s Weird Death-March

8 March 2016

From author Gene Doucette:

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Barnes & Noble has become that relative we all talk about as if they’re already dead, even when they’re right in the room with us, and they don’t even mind because at least we’re talking about them.

I say this knowing all too well that people have been eulogizing this former titan of retail for years and yet the company is still around.  That doesn’t mean the eulogies have been incorrect; it’s just taking longer than expected.  Like Radio Shack, which you probably think has been out of business for five or six years now but only filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and probably still have some stores out there somewhere.

Here are the latest tell-tale signs of the inevitable doom of B&N, and specifically (for my particular corner of the world) the NOOK: last week, in rapid succession, the company sent out notices that they would no longer be selling books in the recently opened NOOK UK store; and they would no longer be supporting third party apps on the NOOK reader.  Both of these changes (and if you didn’t know there was a NOOK UK store, well, that’s part of their problem, isn’t it?) would be official as of March 15, 2016, which was only twelve days from the date on the notices.  This was in the shadow of their announcement of losses in the fourth quarter of 2015, which came earlier the same week (reported optimistically as losses that might be ‘leveling off’ by the estimable New York Times, who have been hopefully predicting the resurgence of B&N for so long now it’s becoming embarrassing.)

If you owned a business and an employee gave you less than two week’s notice right after they mentioned financial troubles, you’d probably think something had gone terribly wrong in that employee’s life.  I appreciate that with B&N they’re trying to consolidate in order to reduce cost, but this already comes after they tried to sell NOOK outright to Microsoft, and Microsoft took a good look and backed out.  And on the list of companies I expect to make fiscally sane decisions, Microsoft isn’t really near the top.

. . . .

I quite inadvertently learned a lot about how things were going at B&N NOOK when I ran a book promotion in December.  This was a BookBub promotion (follow the link if you don’t know them; they’re great) where I marked down an anthology to $0.99 for two days.

With NOOK, I had to mark down the book myself, and I had to do it about four days ahead of time to make sure it was at the discount price when it was supposed to be, because—according to the email I received from support a mere 24 hours after asking—a price change could take that long to show up on the site.  I don’t know this for sure, but I think the reason is, the one guy there who does the changes might be away for the weekend.  I’m not being entirely sarcastic.  I think if you put in a change at Nook, a human being has to input the change.  Really.

. . . .

So that was the first thing.  The second was what happened the day of the sale.

As you might imagine, total-books-sold on a given day impacts a book’s public rank.  For instance, The Immortal Chronicles anthology, on the day of the BookBub promo, climbed up to the top 50 overall on Amazon thanks to over 1400 sales in less than 24 hours.  Meanwhile, over on the Nook, the anthology sold a little over 200 copies in the same period, which was enough to get it into the top 10.

Even taking into account that the two sites may calculated best-seller rank differently, go ahead and read those totals again and then ask yourself how many ebooks Barnes & Noble could actually be selling every day.

Link to the rest at Gene Doucette

Here’s a link to Gene Doucette’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Ebooks, Nook

9 Comments to “The Nook’s Weird Death-March”

  1. Felix J. Torres

    Microsoft’s deal with B&N was itself evidence of… issues… with Nook. The primary reason Microsoft took the stake in Nook was because B&N owed MS money and they couldn’t pay. (The Nook, like most android devices infringes on a whole host of MS patents and instead of quietly negotiating with MS, like Amazon, Samsung, and most of the bigger android gadget vendors, B&N squealed publicly about how unfair MS was to demand cash.)

    Most companies faced with similar claims were typically able to negotiate patent portfolio cross-licenses with MS; in some cases their patents were more valuable than the MS portfolio and MS paid out, other times MS got cash.

    B&N’s patent portfolio was apparently worthless or non-existent so, in the face of B&N’s posturing, MS took a hard line and it all ended up in court. It was going poorly for B&N and since driving them into bankruptcy gained them nothing, MS threw them a lifeline in return for a chunk of equity.

    http://blogs.reuters.com/alison-frankel/2012/05/01/who-won-microsoft-v-barnes-noble-patent-litigation/

    They’ve done that before. (Most notably with the Interplay gamepad patent suit: MS settled and paid a chunk of cash for a piece of Interplay and future revenues from the patent. Which means that when Sony had to pay for the same patent, MS got their money back… from Sony. Business is funny.)

    So, anyway, the deal between MS and Nook went south almost immediately: the Nook app for Windows 8 wasn’t ready in time for the launch of win8 and even when it arrived it was buggy, ebook sales were low, etc, etc… Eventually MS had to take over development of the app and B&N failed to live up to the rest of the deal so they had to buy them out.

    MS has been known to buy overpriced turkeys but those turkeys at least owned IP or marketshare or had competent staff somewhere…

    Microsoft buying Nook outright?
    Never in the cards.

    • I don’t think I ever knew this about the Nook. Thanks for the insight; it explains a lot.

    • > he Nook, like most android devices infringes on a whole host of MS patents

      Well, that’s what Microsoft claims, but they won’t document what patents are infringed.

      They could also be patents like the Apple ’rounded corner’ patents that are pretty meaningless.

      • Felix J. Torres

        Actually, the patents in the Nook case were disclosed.
        And they are pretty fundamental patents. All functional, too. Nary a trade dress claim in the bunch.

        Just search online for “barnes & noble microsoft lawsuit patents”.

        Here’s one:

        http://www.fosspatents.com/2011/03/microsoft-sues-barnes-noble-foxconn-and.html

        MS owns a lot of very fundamental patents in computing (for obvious and non-obvious (billions invested at Microsoft Research for decades, for one) reasons. Many like to poo-pooh their claims but even companies with deep pockets have ended up settling. And android’s development history and practices is hardly clean room pure, a well-known fact that any major tech company using it takes into account. Microsoft isn’t the only major player whose IP was trampled on.

        In this case B&N went for the full trifecta: they went in blindly, they had no significant patents of their own to dicker with, and they raised a public fuss over alleged (and already litigated) Patent abuse, effectively daring MS to sue.

        As Reuters reported, at the time of the settlement, the trial was not going their way and they were facing an 8-figure judgment larger than their liquidity at the time.

        Not the first or last time B&N started a fight they couldn’t finish…

    • Felix, this is awesome info.

  2. Remember, folks, Barnes & Noble just wants to remind you one more time that you don’t actually own the DRMed e-books you “bought.”

  3. Doucette’s observation about the lag in changing the price of his ebook is emblematic of a host of technical differences between Nook and other platforms that make Nook unattractive to indie authors and small publishers.

  4. Felix J. Torres

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