Barnes and Noble tends to go through phases where they are total in stealth mode about whats happening in the Nook division. The last time they had anything to say was in November when they launched Nook Audiobooks and before that, they really hyped up the two Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook tablets. How are hardware sales doing and how many people are listening to audiobooks? Nobody seems to know, and this is the type of information that appeases shareholders and makes for a good headline. So whats next for Nook? Today, we take a look back at their most notable achievements of 2014 and project what the company will be doing in 2015.
Barnes and Noble did not release any new e-ink based readers in 2014, but did issue the Nook Glowlight in late November 2013. This was their second iteration of a reader that included a front-lit display. It was polished and refined, but did not sell in the type of numbers that the Nook Simple Touch experienced.
Instead of e-readers, the largest bookseller in the US decided to go the tablet route. In the past, they did everything in-house through their California research and development center. This time around, they decided to just outsource the entire hardware design to Samsung, which merely gave them the 7 and 10 inch Galaxy Tab 4th generation tablets. Barnes and Noble simply used a stock version of Android and ported over a few of their customized Android apps. This included an online bookstore, e-reader app, app store and various customization options.
Many customers expressed disappointment in their latest line of Nook tablets, citing the resolution was worse than the previous generation and it lost most of the Nook charm.
Barnes and Noble really shook up their executive group in 2014. The company got a new CEO, former president, Michael Huseby, who replaced William Lynch. Jim Hilt, head of global e-book sales, digital products director Jamie Iannone and VP of digital products Bill Saperstein all departed in early 2014. Towards the end of the year Theresa Horner the VP, Digital Content at Barnes & Noble has left the company and was replaced by Doug Carlson, CMO and EVP of Digital Content.
Barnes and Noble have been bringing in a number of people from outside the traditional book-selling industry, such as former Zinio executives Doug Carlson and Jeanniey Mullen. The main intention behind these and many other great new hires is to bring in fresh ideas. The previous Nook regime had all been there forever, before Nook even launched. Most of them were not very tech savvy and were basically thrust into new roles. The brand was really solid at first, but somehow lost their way in 2013, as apathy and boardroom politics affected the brand.
Towards the end of 2014, Barnes and Noble wanted to solidify more control over the future of the Nook brand. The bookseller plans on spinning off the Nook business from book-selling in late 2015. In order to lay down the framework they had to buy out Microsoft and academic publisher Pearson’s stake in Nook Media.
What does Barnes and Noble have planned for 2015? The company intends on releasing a new e-reader. I have heard reports that intend on making it very modern, and use a capacitive touchscreen display with a new version of e-paper from e Ink. Likely, they will not release any new tablets, as they tend to do it in two year cycles.
Barnes and Noble is at a crossroads with their digital distribution system and has hard choices to make in 2015. They spent a fortune developing their own app ecosystem and luring developers to use their own custom SDK to include their apps on the Nook App Store. A few years ago, they decided that they had to form a relationship with Google, in order to have Google Play available on their complete line of tablets. This effectively relegated the Nook store to play second fiddle to Google. The same thing is occurring with Nook Video, they simply don’t have the necessary team in place to really make it a viable alternative to Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.
Nook also has to figure out about what they want with Nook Press, their self-publishing platform. This service is not promoted very well at all, and has literary zero presence at most of the big events that center around publishing, like Book Expo America and Romance Writers of America. The platform has a whole does not even appear on the top 89 sites commonly used by indie authors.
Nook Press has a lot of potential. The synergy that can be blended between the physical bookstore and the digital is something Amazon, Kobo or Smashwords can’t match. Not only does Nook Press need an evangelist to promote the platform globally, but also needs to lay down framework that gets the bestselling indie novels inside their bookstores and promote it. As soon as they manage to do that, they will generate and cultivate a new breed of writer that wants to sell both traditionally and digitally.
I think spinning off the Nook division from the traditional book selling business would be a good move. It would create separation on the executive level, you would have the digital people and the bookstores in totally different camps. This would allow Nook to create their own company culture and have more freedom to take calculated risks. I also think that more executives and brilliant minds from the tech industry would be more likely to consider working at Nook, if it were purely digital and whose sole intention is to be a priority, not a diversion.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.