May 7, 2013

B&N shoots self in foot, bellows at consumers “Are you happy now?”


Comes with Google Play and a heavy dose of foreboding

Barnes & Noble made two announcements this week sure to delight everyone invested in the Nook—with the exception of those who have actually invested in the Nook.

B&N has discounted some of their tablets steeply in anticipation of Mother’s Day, by $90 dollars in the case of their Nook HD+, from $269 to $179 until May 12th. We’ve discussed here before what some of these price shifts might mean when, as with all of these device makers, the units moved are a driver for content sales—in B&N’s case, mostly books and other media.

Well all of that is right out the window now with B&N’s next change. The book retailer has already put through a software update for Nook users, and with the new software they are being given access to the Google Play store.

This will give Nook users access to Google’s richer market of apps, as well as all of the same ebooks and music B&N already had available. The user reaction is overwhelmingly favorable, and reviewers are impressed that the B&N developers have found a way to integrate all of the Google marketplace’s Android-based apps so readily into the Nook’s own heavily altered Android system.

It’s great news for Nook users so long as they don’t want to keep buying Nooks. Because if users choose to make Google Play their default app for purchases—and there’s every reason to believe they could—B&N will be losing out on each of those sales.

Functional wisdom has been that devices like the Nook and the Kindle serve mainly as a method of locking customers in to a given marketplace. The entire value of the Nook was that its users bought content for the Nook almost exclusively from B&N. If that is no longer the case, what value does the Nook even have?

If the Nook division of B&N, spun off from the actual stores, is planning to make money on the devices themselves that’s one thing. Google reigns in the android app world. But B&N, while well behind Amazon, still outstrips Google in ebook sales.

There is also the subtle irony here that though Google eventually threw the ABA and independent booksellers under the bus, while their cooperation lasted those stores were the ones selling the books through Google’s tech, and so getting a better deal than B&N now is.


Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.