January 10, 2014, 6:00 AM —
Source: Barnes & Noble
Last July I wrote a post titled The war between Nook & Kindle is over and Amazon has carried the day. In it, I voiced my opinion and observation that Amazon's Kindle ecosystem had beaten that of Barnes & Noble and their NOOK.
Plenty of folks took exception with what I had to say, including someone who accused me of shilling for Amazon. (Hey Bezos, when will my check arrive?)
Six months later, the NOOK is still available (one thing my post definitely got wrong was that B&N had stopped manufacturing them; that point I corrected in a later post) so my critics seem to have been correct.
Or were they? Yesterday Barnes & Noble issued a press release about holiday sales (specifically the 9 weeks ending on December 28th), and the news wasn't good. While B&N retail sales (including http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ and brick & mortar stores) were only down a little (6.6%) when compared to 2012, and what they call 'core bookstore sales' (this segment excludes the NOOK) were essentially flat at .2% down, NOOK sales fell 60.5%, as compared to holiday 2012. Hardware (NOOKs and their accessories) was down 66.7%, while digital content fared somewhat better, dropping only 27.3%.
Newly appointed B&N CEO Michael P. Huseby said in the press release that NOOK sales were down because they didn't launch new hardware this year, opting instead to sell through their existing inventory. To which I ask, "Why didn't they launch new hardware?"
Of course, Amazon doesn't have to report sales figures and maybe Kindle isn't doing as well as it seems to be, but I doubt it. On December 26th Amazon issued a press release saying it had enjoyed a "record-setting holiday season" and listed the Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HDX 7”, and Kindle Fire HDX 8.9” as bestsellers in the tablet category. Sure it could still be spin; maybe they just didn't sell many tablets. But that seems like wishful thinking on the part of NOOK fans.
Perhaps I was quick to suggest the war was over, but I still think the NOOK, in terms of a piece of hardware, is on its way out. In my opinion Barnes & Noble should focus on bolstering digital content sales and let us read their ebooks on the NOOK apps that run on the hardware we already own. And maybe that's exactly what they're doing. If you go to bn.com and click on the NOOK tab you'll see a pretty low-key offering of 10% off a NOOK Glowlight, then have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to learn about the rest of the NOOK lineup. On the way down you'll pass ads for NOOK books, NOOK magazines, and NOOK apps before you get to the rest of the hardware.
I have to admit, I'm glad I'm not the one who has to find a way to compete with Amazon. It just seems there's not enough differentiation between ebook stores to get us to bother using more than one. Compare this to something like video streaming services. I have Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu accounts because (annoyingly) each service offers content that the other two don't. I read all my eBooks on an Android tablet; I could fire up the NOOK app just as easily as I do the Kindle app, but I just never feel the need to go to bn.com when I can find everything I want on amazon.com.
How would you save the NOOK? Or are you a loyalist who doesn't think the brand is in trouble?
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.