Sunday, August 25, 2013

Thoughts on Barnes & Noble

Yes it has been a while since my last post.  Too long actually.  I am sure some of you thought I had disappeared.  Sadly as it happens to many writers, life got in the way, and I got behind in my writing.  The good news is I am back at my typewriter (figuratively speaking) and I hope to have the manuscript of my next book done soon.  I will likely go the self publishing route again so you won't have to wait years for it to see the light of day.

But now on to the subject that this post is about: Barnes & Noble.  I have no doubt you have seen the headlines recently.  First B&N announce that they didn't make a profit this past Christmas season like they expected, with the CEO announcing they will be making changes.  Then a announcement that they are giving up on developing Nook tablet hardware in house, and would seek third parties that would be interested in rebranding their tablet with Nook.  Shortly after the CEO, William Lynch, who had been there since the start of Nook resigned.  Now B&N say that they are not giving up on Nook tablet hardware as it would be hard to sell ebooks without their own in house development. Quite the roller coaster indeed.

What do I think?  Well lets go back to the beginning of the Nook.  I think they made the right move to go into the ebook business, to just ignore it would have been foolhardy as that is where the majority of book sales will be eventually.  Their first device I think is their best, for reading.  The Nook Classic (also called Nook First Edition) was mainly a e-ink device with a color touch screen on the bottom and two paging buttons on either side of the screen.  You could easily side load books (plug the device into your computer to add or backup books), replace the battery if needed, barrow ebooks from your local library if they used the overdrive system, and it even had a sd card slot for increased storage.

Later on they added other features such as a couple of games, a web browser, and a few others.  But those weren't the best uses for the device, as many others can do the same much better.  However for what it was designed for: reading it was still one of the best readers of the time.  Mixing the best of both worlds with a color screen allowed for full color views of covers (which being a very visual person, was a great asset to me).  I also liked how you could barrow or even buy ebooks elsewhere and use them on the Nook.  Therefore the device had longevity.  And later on they added shelves, for better organization (it helps but they didn't give us what we really asked for).  The system still lacked in that area but there were ways around it (I will get into that in a bit).  I bought mine because it could be used even if B&N shut down their ebook store.  And I had been burned several times in the past due to such a situation.

I know it isn't a perfect device, but for me it is still what I use most to read books on.  Yes I know it doesn't have a light but I use a regular book light clipped to the corner that works well.  My eyes like this situation rather than a backlight glowing into my eyes.  I also liked that the main reading surface doesn't get fingerprints all the time.  Later on I rooted mine to use a 3rd party app that allowed for better searching and display of the library on the device.  This fixed the only real issue I had with it.  I could live with the way it was, but this was still a great improvement.  And why B&N never made these changes always surprised me.

Next the came out with the Nook Color, which is more of a android tablet aimed at readers but could do more.  The book reading app had many new features, but the organization was still limited to shelves only (which takes a LONG time to set up if you have a sizable library).  And they allowed installing of other 3rd party apps via their apps store.  One of the problems with Nook Color was that it was a little under powered for what people wanted.  It was more of a android tablet yes, but watching movies or other content were lacking at times.  But it was still great for its main use of reading books, magazines, and newspapers.

Shortly after this came the Nook Simple Touch.  A e-ink touch screen based reader.  Gone was the dual screens, but the device was smaller and lighter.  The reading app was improved over the Nook Classic but it did have a few downsides, the more notable was the lack of a user replaceable battery.  It also lacked any sort of audio book or music ability.  But it could last a month or more on a charge.  The newer version with glow light doesn't last as long (well if you have the light on).

The Nook Tablet came out as a successor to the Nook Color.  It had a faster processor and larger internal storage.  It fixed a few other downsides of the Nook Color and basically was what the Nook Color should have been in the first place.  But it was still limited to the B&N apps store and you couldn't side load apps unless you rooted the device (which is fairly simple).  For reading, or mostly anything you wanted to do with a tablet, this device could do.  I have not even really had a reason to root mine, although I may do so in the future for a couple of apps that are not in the B&N store.

Then last fall the Nook HD and HD+ were released.  These were higher resolution screens, and later on had Google Play installed making them full tablets as they were no longer limited to the B&N apps store.  Another benefit is these (like all B&N devices) have a SD card slot allowing for the expansion of storage.  Most other Android tablets do not have a expansion slot.  If you are looking for a Android tablet, you really can't beat the Nook HD or HD+ (if you like the larger screen).  It is good to see that they have decided not to give up on the hardware, and to be honest if they did I don't think their ebook section would survive.  It is how Amazon has achieved 60% of the market share, almost give away the reader and make money on the content.  I don't think B&N can do otherwise and still be competitive.

Now where did they go wrong?  I would say there are several reasons.  First off not listening to customers with the original Nook Classic.  Many of us begged for better organization of their libraries, and while they did give us shelves, it could have been so much better.  The current implementation just took too long to add a lot of books to the shelves.  And if you ever had to change devices, that organization was lost.  We also asked for bookmarks in the audio player since it was very easy to loose ones place in a audio book, instead we got games.  Don't get me wrong, they did do some wonderful additions to the Nook Classic before it was abandoned, but not listening left a lot of bad tastes in customers mouths.

Then the charger fiasco of the Nook Color.  The original charging cords had a defect that could damage the device, cord or both.  And while the port is a normal micro USB port, the charging cord is slightly longer and you couldn't use a normal micro USB cable.  Well you could, but it would charge the tablet very very slowly.  And they had a shortage of replacement chargers.  This was fixed by the time the Nook Tablet was released, but it was another stain on the platform.

They also dropped 3g connectivity.  Nook Classic had it, but every device since has been WiFi only.  Considering that many other competing devices do have a 3g option, I find it odd that B&N no longer offer it.  Another problem was the lack of releasing Nook world wide from the start.  Or at least shortly after its US release.  Amazon's Kindle has been world wide for a while now and this has proven very difficult for B&N to try and make up for that lost time.

One of the biggest mistakes I think B&N did was with regard to its tablets.  Rather than trying to create a separate app store, they should have just used Google Play from the start.  It would have allowed development to center on the devices and bookstore.  And they would really have competed with the other Android tablets.  B&N tried to market them as Android tablets without the resources of competing products.  As a result people wanting a Android tablet went elsewhere and downloaded the Nook app to their device of choice.  B&N did finally come around with Nook HD and HD+, but is it too late to save the company?  I hope not.  B&N is about the only real competitor to Amazon left.  To loose them would likely result in a near monopoly in the business, which is never a good situation.

B&N maybe on the road to improvement and we all can see they are fighting for their existence.  If they listen to their customers from now on, (adding Google Play was certainly a step in the right direction for example) and be quicker in adapting, they may just survive.  I hope they do and continue to be around for a long time to come.

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