Amazon Didn’t Kill the Nook, Barnes and Noble’s Inept Leadership Did

Nook Store Pic

This past week Barnes and Noble announced that their CEO, William Lynch, has resigned. It’s no secret that B&N has been struggling financially for some time now, and this is just one of many dominos to fall over the past few months.

An interesting detail to note, B&N didn’t replace their CEO. Instead they basically split the company into two divisions, one for Nook Media, and the other for their college and retail stores. The same executives will remain the heads for the latter two, while Michael Huseby was promoted from Chief Financial Officer to CEO of Nook Media.

At this point it will be interesting to see where Nook Media ends up and what changes will be made. There have been rumors that Microsoft could possibly buy Nook Media, especially since they invested 300 million dollars in them last year.

Whatever happens, it’s going to take strong leadership to reinvigorate the Nook brand after the major beating it has taken over the past couple of years.

A lot of people want to point the blame of the Nook’s numerous struggles squarely on Amazon, such as this article published by the Guardian. But I disagree. Everyone wants to blame Amazon for everything anymore. It’s gotten ridiculous.

The reason Nook Media is struggling is because of the bad decisions made by B&N’s leadership. Amazon didn’t make B&N choose to use exclusive DRM that locks Nook books into B&N’s reading apps and hardware (if B&N had just chosen to use regular Adobe DRM instead they could’ve been selling ebooks to all the Sony Reader, Kobo, and other ePub ereaders all this time instead of just to people with Nooks).

Amazon wasn’t responsible for B&N’s lack of expansion into international markets, either. In four years Barnes and Noble has only managed to expand the Nook into one country outside the US. Amazon, meanwhile, has managed to expand the Kindle to over 180 countries. Kobo and Sony have both majorly outpaced B&N in international expansion as well.

Amazon also didn’t force Barnes and Noble to lock down their tablets from installing third-party Android apps. The locked-down nature of B&N’s tablets was always a major negative that turned people away. Adding support for Google Play was too little too late, as evident by B&N recently announcing that they won’t be manufacturing any new Nook tablets.

It wasn’t Amazon that killed the Nook tablet either, B&N did that themselves, and I can recall the exact instant it happened. It was when B&N issued a firmware update for the Nook Tablet to close a loophole that allowed users to sideload Android apps. After that things went downhill for the Nook Tablet big time, which was especially disappointing after how successful B&N’s first tablet was, the Nook Color. And then when they released the Nook HD and HD+, B&N continued with their locked-down nature. You can’t help but wonder how different things would have been if B&N had just shipped the Nook HD/HD+ with Google Play from the beginning. It sure would have made them a lot more appealing than the Kindle Fire HD tablets. But B&N neglected to capitalize on that opportunity, as they’ve failed to do time and again.

17 Responses to “Amazon Didn’t Kill the Nook, Barnes and Noble’s Inept Leadership Did”

  1. that and advertising. they’ve never done what I’d call a serious media blitz for any of the nooks or any serious partnering with 3rd party retailers like Best Buy, Target or Walmart.

    Kindles & IPads often have their own kiosk/end caps while Nook & other tablets/readers are off in a side isle.

  2. “(if B&N had just chosen to use regular Adobe DRM instead they could’ve been selling ebooks to all the Sony Reader, Kobo, and other ePub ereaders all this time instead of just to people with Nooks)”

    I completely agree with this point. The only ereader I’ve purchased (so far) is the Sony PRS-T1, because it had more of the features I wanted than the Nook had, and had been making and selling well-regarded ereaders for years. But I also have a Barnes & Noble in my town, and I’ve had a B&N membership for many years now. Even if B&N and Sony (and Kobo, for that matter) didn’t want to “band together” in a genuine partnership against Amazon, B&N could at least have allowed their ebooks to be read on the other devices that support epubs. I don’t know how big a difference it would have made, but I would have purchased some from them.

  3. Great article, Nathan. Yes what you say is true. B&N were there own worst enemy. I want to add that Kobo has allowed its content to be read on other ereaders. Didn’t I hear a rumor, perhaps here, Kobo is also experimenting with Mobi?

    I see the advantage of getting an ereader that reads epub, but for some reason, I’m fearful that Kobo will go away as well or just not be available here in the States.

  4. I would love to see a ereader that has native support for epub AND mobi. anyone know if such a device exists?

    • Yeah there are some good options in Europe like Pocketbook and Onyx that support loads of formats, including ePub and Mobi. Kobo’s ereaders support Mobi as well but they don’t do a very good job at present; you’re better off converting to ePub.

  5. I like my nook hd+… But I’m not sure if, like the nook color, whether I have to power off to insert or remove the SD card?

    The instruction only say to open theittle door and insert it…

    Great article as always, Nathan! Thank you! 🙂

  6. Wasn’t it also Apple and Samsung (and Google, with the Nexus 7) that also helped kill off Nook tablets?

    Nook tablets were at first popular for their low prices and relatively good specs. But then other manufacturers began moving into the 7-8″ space, and their prices were also reasonable.

  7. Nathan, I have heard you say over and over again in different articles what you thought was wrong with B&N and what they needed to do to make the Nook Tablets more popular; especially adding Google Play (which B&N eventually did, but only at the bitter end).
    Well my friend you were proven right.
    Let’s hope B&N continues producing those great Ereaders like the Nook Simple Touch that we like so well 🙂

  8. Lately, it seems that if someone is bad at doing business, the best thing to do is blame Amazon!
    Personally, I considered buying a Nook, but wait, I’m Danish, and I think I would prefer something a bit more international-friendly.:)

  9. I’m in general agreement, but I’m going to nitpick a few things.

    The split-off of NOOK Media isn’t anything new. It was announced on October 4, 2012.

    The college bookstores are part of NOOK Media, not B&N Retail. No, that doesn’t make much sense on the face of it. There had been some speculation that maybe it was a sign that digital textbooks were coming, but apparently not.

    B&N has a handicap relative to Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Sony when it comes to expanding into international markets: they run bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Some countries are hostile to foreign bookstore operators. That’s hardly an explanation for expanding into only the UK so far, but it is a factor for some countries, especially Canada.

    I’d have to add a number of other B&N miscues, such as:
    * their web site/e-book store going down for days at Christmas time (2010 and 2011),
    * taking up to five months to process payments for purchases made right after the Christmas 2011 outage,
    * breaking the WiFi feature on the original NOOK and never fixing it even when they came out with the WiFi-only variant,
    * occasionally breaking the Shop feature on various devices,
    * letting a failed e-book download block any further e-book downloads to the device,
    * making the original NOOK unable to open e-books downloaded manually from B&N,
    * having PDB support in the original NOOK but not in later models,
    * not knowing what they were doing with reader apps and NOOK for PC/Mac (not then, not now),
    * I have no clue what they were trying to do with Fictionwise/,
    * being unable to keep their in-store NOOK features operating reliably,
    * having a search engine that has trouble finding anything and couldn’t find a single e-book for over a year because of a capitalization problem on the web page for their search,
    * hiding the device-compatibility information on the web pages for e-books,
    * cutting their NOOK advertising in order to save money,
    * not providing *any* support for their PubIt operation when it was launched,
    * not providing much support for NOOK Study,
    * and of course the master-stroke of moving their Customer Service operations to the Philippines.

    And so much more. But maybe Amazon told them to do all that stuff.

    Irony: in 2010, Ron Burkle tried to buy control of B&N with the plan of dumping all that digital nonsense and sticking with selling books. Back then, Len Riggio thought that was a stupid idea. Now, Riggio is considering buying the bookstore operation without the digital part.

    I want NOOK to succeed. But it’s hard to see how they can clean up this mess, especially with a bean-counter taking the helm at NOOK Media.

    • Feel free to nitpick all you want, Doug. That’s one heck of a list. I think you are more knowledgable about B&N than most of their employees :).

  10. This may sound like a stupid question, but is Amazon a wholly American run company? I know it is located in Seattle, but does it have customer service outsourced? What about Kobo?

    Sheesh, after all the aforementioned “nitpicks” I’m ready to not patronize their stores either. They don’t know how to get out of their way! The right hand doesn’t seem to know what the left hand is doing. Maybe because they are in different hemispheres!

  11. hi. I’d like to write about the difference between the Nook and the Kobo Touch. I’ve owned both. The Kobo is sleeker, more stylish but less functional. The lack of a decent PDF reader on the Kobo is enough for me not to recommend the device. However, if you only want to read Epubs then it is close to perfect. The menu on the Kobo is better, more stylish than the Nook and gives better access to ebooks. This is also the major defect of the Nook. The menu is limited and allows you to only look for books one flip at a time. There is no go to feature that allows you to skip a lot of the books at once as there is on the Kobo. Also the search function on the Nook doesn’t clear after each search so if you look for “Dracula” in one search and “Peter Pan” in the next you wind up with “DraculaPeter Pan” unless you erase it and start all over again.
    My suggestions for the next Nook update:
    1)Allow for freestanding dictionary function. The Kobo allows this but the Nook does not; you cannot search the dictionary without opening a book and using only the a word that appears in the text.
    2) Include multiple dictionaries. A French dictionary in addition to the Websters would be excellent.
    3) Allow to skip forward in the menu by more than one page at a time and allow for getting to the end and instantly returning to the beginging. Sounds obvious but is not possible for the Nook.
    4) Make the rooting for tablet much easier for non-savy users. I tried to root my Nook Touch but wound up bricking it. Why was it not easier to do? Also, why did the Nook software managers take away the browser function in the first place? I owned the original Nook and as clunky as it was at least I could surf with it. So Nook actually took a step backward and cut off the ability for users to surf the net. No wonder they have problems, they showed some contempt for their customers.
    5) A color ereader with more functionality than the current crop of ereaders. CF. Jetcos color ereader.
    6) Would be nice to have Wikipedia already loaded into it. Let’s hope for the future. . .

  12. NOOK Media continues its tradition of breaking in highly entertaining, if money-losing, ways.

    Tonight I tried to download an e-book I bought (okay, I got it for free), and NOOK for PC said downloading failed. Thinking maybe the problem was NOOK for PC, I went on the Web to my NOOK library — which, amusingly, requires that I sign in again with exactly the same sign-in as the B&N site I was already signed in to — and download from there. Nope, no go; just a message that said “Oops.” Very helpful.

    Harumph. I got out my NOOK First Edition and it synced up the e-book cover and listing, but didn’t automatically download the e-book like it usually does. So I commanded a manual download, and that failed, too.

    I switched off the Wi-Fi, putting my N1E into 3G mode, and finally got the download.

    On the other hand, my NOOK HD had no problem downloading that e-book.

  13. RONNY-HERMANS July 24, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Been waiting, hoping Nook would come to Europe. But they didn’t, and now with Google Books available as normal drm’s I don’t even want to buy books from them if they would come over here.

  14. One person in our family has a Nook, one has Kindle, one has Kobo, one has Aluratek, and three have Ergo (our favorite). We’ve also tried out other e-readers, like Pocketbook (which unfortunately no longer sells to the US for some reason).

    The biggest problems with B&N/Nook are:

    1. Using a proprietary DRM format which does not allow B&N books to be read on non-Nook e-readers. We’d buy all of our books from B&N if we could read them on our non-Nook e-readers. Most likely many people worldwide would also buy books from B&N if B&N used standard Adobe DRM format to allow books to be loaded onto ANY e-reader via ADE software rather than only on Nook devices. Unlike in the US, in our experience, e-readers in Europe are not forced to use a particular online bookstore, but may buy books from any site (except for B&N and Amazon b/c of their proprietary DRM/file formats).

    A bookstore that really wants to make money will make their books available to the largest amount of readers and e-reader devices, not just to the smaller percentage who purchase their own brand of e-reader.

    2. Silly user interface. What this means is that many non-US e-readers are more like an external hard drive with a menu system user interface. The user controls where files go, can set up folders/bookshelves, etc. quite easily from within the e-reader or their computer, and can set up the reader however they wish instead of being stuck with a UI that doesn’t easily allow finding/organizing/adding books. After using a variety of e-readers, we’ve found that the Nook is the least intuitive, the least user-friendly, and has the most hurdles to jump through to get to books, especially side-loaded ones. We’ve not had to contact tech support for our other readers b/c we’ve not had problems loading or reading our books except on Nook and Kindle, which aren’t quite as full-proof.

    3. Overly controlling about already purchased books. Sometimes we’ve had books deleted or been locked out of the Nook for no reason, requiring multiple support calls and quite a bit of time to finally resolve. We’ve also had issues getting new books to appear at times. This is just crazy. Our non-Nook e-readers never have these problems. One simply copies books to the device via ADE (if DRM-protected content) or drag-n-drop via computer (if non-DRM content) or sync via a cloud and it’s on the device forever and easy to find. There isn’t a “big brother” monitoring the device and its contents. Imagine how much less of a tech support burden there’d be if Nook simplified things and stopped monitoring content of people’s readers and accounts.

    4. Sub-par software for PC, and restrictive app for mobiles/tablets which cannot be installed if you’re out of the country or have a foreign-purchased mobile/tablet regardless of whether you have a B&N/Nook account and Nook device. It is plainly obvious to B&N by the credit card tied to one’s Nook account exactly where the person is a legal resident, so why they refuse to allow the Nook app to be installed on devices purchased or used out of country when one has to register that device via a valid Nook account in order to use it makes no sense.

    It seems that the US is behind in the e-book/e-reader market in these aspects of using proprietary DRM/file formats, controlling purchased content on e-readers, and having an overly programmed, non-user friendly UI.

    Overall, if enough people in the US realized what the rest of the world has in the e-reader/e-book market, which is much less restrictive and much more user-friendly with more options, then perhaps B&N would start being more market-savvy and less proprietary, and being turning a good profit instead of shooting themselves in the foot with short-sighted decisions.

    Just our 2 cents. 🙂

  15. I had a Nook Simple Touch which spent most of it’s time locked-up with a frozen screen – on doing a Google search I was astonished to find ‘thousands’ of people with the same issue. None of the solutions suggested by Nook / B&N customer service (when they did eventually respond) such as pushing various combinations of buttons for various amounts of seconds appeared to help anyone at all unlock their frozen Nooks. Indeed it has become apparent that frozen screens are a extremely common fault and necessitate the device being returned and usually replaced. Perhaps this is the source of all the refurbished Nooks now available. In comparison my Kobo Touch has proven so much more reliable and if the software (which is the problem identified with Nooks) does have a rare glitch, there is a convenient reset hole on the back which will enable rapid recovery and reboot. Perhaps debugging the Nook software once and for all and adding a reset ‘button’ would help the Nook compete better. People like them when they work but this problem is so ubiquitous (and so denied by B&N) and now so well known, I’m certain it is the downfall of an otherwise well-designed and manufactured ereader.