December 31, 2010, 1:36 PM —
A friend of mine commented that he was surprised by the news that ebooks are now outselling print titles on Barnes and Noble's website. I, however, wasn't surprised at all.
The first reason that I wasn't surprised is that we're talking about online sales rather than total sales. Barnes and Noble may have the world's second biggest online bookstore, but it isn't the first one most of us think of when we want to buy a book online. The first impulse is Amazon. It's more widely recognized as an online vendor, has a somewhat broader selection, and can help you find books that it doesn't stock (either because they're obscure titles from small publishers or they're out of print) through a network of smaller sellers and individuals. That reduces the volume of online sales for Barnes and Noble. That said, if I'm looking to find and buy a print book quickly, my local Barnes and Noble is my first choice before any online store, which increases print sales for them over online sales.
The second reason is Barnes and Noble was very smart with its development of the Nook as a platform. You can buy and read Nook ebooks on an actual Nook or Nook Color device, but you can also buy and read them using the Nook app on an iPad, iPhone, Android tablet or smartphone, BlackBerry, PC, or Mac. That opens the platform beyond just the Nook hardware (this also applies to Amazon and the Kindle). Add to that the fact that Leatherbound let's you find the best price for books among the Nook, Kindle, and Apple ebook stores and you have yet another advantage to this 'ebook anywhere' concept.
This also brings me to the third reason this didn't surprise me. If you're browsing BN.com, you'll see if the books are available in Nook form (usually for significantly less money than in print, particularly for new books and hardcover titles). That makes it easy to select an ebook option over a print edition, particularly when you can download and read it on any device (or on multiple devices and have the content sync). Again, this also applies to Amazon as well.
Finally, the Nook platform has had an edge in that it allows you lend books to other Nook owners or Nook app users. That made buying an ebook from Barnes and Noble more attractive than from Apple or Amazon. Of course, since Amazon just introduced this capability for Kindle users, that edge won't last long, but for a while it did likely increase Nook sales a bit.
For all those reasons (along with the explosion of e-readers and ebook content this year), it doesn't surprise me that Nook ebook sales beat out online print sales. It's also worth noting that the the well designed Nook strategy and ebook sales are a major reason Barnes and Noble is in much better shape than its biggest brick and mortar competition.
Have your say? Are you surprised to see Nook sales eclipsing online print sales? Let us know in the comments.