Monday, April 30, 2012

The Future of The Nook?

The latest news regarding Barnes and Noble's Nook platform is that Microsoft is infusing $300 million dollars into the ereader.  What does this mean for the ereader market?  What about for readers who own or might own a Nook?  What about for authors?

In the recent past, there has been talk of Barnes and Noble spinning off the Nook division to a buyer.  I've always thought that this would be the death of Barnes and Noble, because without the Nook they would just be like Borders, and we know what happened to them.  Why would they ditch a part of their business that is doing well and keeping the afloat?  I think part of the answer can be found in how they address Nook users, or more accurately, how they are NOT addressing Nook users.  Let me explain.

If you've ever surfed the website, you know that the powers that be at Barnes and Noble have just not put much time or effort into making it easy to find things, and not just individual books, but best sellers, genre leaders, etc.  By contrast, is doing a bang-up job of helping readers find the books that they want.  And I'm not the only one that has noticed this, either.  And yet, despite their lack of attention to making things easy for Nook buyers/readers, ebooks are helping to keep Barnes and Noble going.

It just doesn't seem like they have things figured out, or even the first clue about how to get things started.  If I had to guess, it's not that they have no ideas, but that they don't have the atmosphere in their offices to have people go out on a limb and try something new.  Even if they are imitating Amazon with some things, if they work, why wouldn't they do it?  That's just smart business to do what works, even if its an incremental improvement; actually, ESPECIALLY if its an incremental improvement.  Businesses don't have to do one thing incredibly well, they need to do dozens of things just a little bit better, and they'll be successful.  Yet Barnes and Noble seems to just want to sit on what they have and not try to improve things at all, let alone incrementally.

So, back to the announcement that Microsoft is infusing Nook with millions of dollars.  What does this mean to the ereader industry?  Well, it means that a company with deep pockets is serious about making in-roads into a market that they feel is ripe for taking market share from the leader, i.e., Amazon.  In truth, Amazon's share of the market in the U.S. has been slipping, but they are still the leader by a good margin, and they are fighting to keep what they have and continue to grow it.  Microsoft is a software company, and that's what continues to evolve as we are moving from normal desktop software to mobile apps.  If they can have a part of the growing tablet market that also happens to crossover to the ereader market, that's a pretty tempting piece of the pie.

What about the Nook users, what does it mean for them?  Well, hopefully it will mean innovation.  With that amount of money, it means that they will have the resources to devote to people who can start making changes to the platform, doing research and development, marketing and more.  Hopefully it will mean that buying new books for the Nook becomes easier, more friendly, and that it generates positive word of mouth.  It means that people who are thinking about buying a Nook will have more reasons to go with the Nook versus any other ereader.

And finally, what does it mean for authors?  Hopefully, it means that the Nook folks will match the royalties that Amazon offers.  They aren't much less right now, but they should have no problems equaling what Amazon throws out there.  Also, it means that they have the resources, i.e., money to start innovating ways to make it attractive to authors to publish their ebooks on the Nook versus anywhere else.  It also means that they can start looking outside the U.S. borders to international markets.  Canada is a great place for them to cut their teeth, and they can move on from there to the easy English-speaking markets:  England, Australia, New Zealand, and others.

All in all, I'm excited for what the Microsoft money infusion could mean for the Nook.  It was only a matter of time before a new start-up company introduced the Kindle-killer, or for an established company with lots of money to try to enter the market.  We're seeing the latter, but the former could still happen as well.  And it all means good things for readers AND authors.  Embrace the change!