Finding the right bookshelf for the Nook


What will the Nook’s future be?

Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-readers face fierce competition from the Kindle and iPad. B&N has tripled its advertising since 2009, adding to the huge development costs of the Nook, The Wall Street Journal reports. B&N’s EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) have fallen to $163 million in the year ending April 2011 from $281 million the previous year.

One of the leaders of a minority shareholder firm recently said competing with Amazon and Apple is a “big-boy game” and that B&N may need partners to play that game. B&N, meanwhile, said it is seeking partners for overseas ventures.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the bookseller could possibly either sell a minority stake in the Nook line, setting up a separate management team, or sell the Nook brand outright.

I believe it would be short-sighted to sell the Nook brand outright. Barnes & Noble could very effectively use its brick and mortar stores – the ones that survive in the years ahead – to promote the Nook e-reader and its accessories. Bookstore customers are good candidates to buy e-readers. And Barnes & Noble and Nook can be co-promoted together if the corporation continues to own both brands. You lose that cohesiveness if Nook gets sold; even if a tech behemoth like Microsoft or Google buys the Nook, the new owner has lost that connection to a traditional bookstore and its customers.

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When a Kindle is not a Kindle – Reading books on another device


My last several blogs have focused on the Kindle e-book reader – but that tablet is not the platform for partaking of the Kindle experience. Amazon.com currently offers several versions of a Kindle app for mobile phones and other devices: the iPhone; Windows personal computers; Mac computers; some models of the Blackberry; the iPad; Android phones; and the Windows Phone 7 operating system. (Click here to view the various Kindle apps and system requirements.)

I have only recently downloaded the Windows PC app; it is the only device I own that supports one of the apps. My Blackberry Curve is not one of the Curve models that are compatible with the Kindle app. I have begun reading “Aesop’s Fables.”

My impressions so far of the Windows PC app: “Page turning” is as easy as using a mouse’s scroll button or hitting forward and back arrows. Additional convenient features include a “Home” button to return to the main menu, the ability to make notes about the material, the ability to change font size and brightness and the ability to read the text in one or two columns. You can navigate easily to your notes or to highlighted sections you have marked in the text. The computer screen makes for a larger reading area than the Kindle tablet. However, this app cannot duplicate the Kindle tablet’s e-ink technology that makes electronic reading similar to reading a printed book (computer screens are back-lit, which can lead to eye strain).

Regardless of which Kindle format you use, Kindle customers have one huge advantage: Amazon.com makes your e-book available for repeated download on multiple devices. So if you lose your Kindle tablet, once you buy a new tablet you can simply re-download your e-books at no additional charge. I have downloaded a couple of the titles from my Kindle tablet to my computer Kindle app. This customer service feature provides a peace of mind for anyone who worries about purchasing a lot of electronic books only to lose the reader.  This feature helps you deal with data storage limitations too, since you can delete titles you have read to clear up room on the device; you can always download the title again in the future if you wish to read it again.

Check soon for the next Kindle blog: Further observations on the Kindle tablet

Why #newspapers should embrace the #Kindle


I’m a lifelong newspaper reader and a newspaper journalist. I have been leery in the past of technical trends, since I really hate investing in some new technical gadget only to get burned when it does not work. Last year I bought a solar charger for my cell phone, but it only charges the phone when I plug it into an outlet, not when I leave it exposed to the sun’s rays. So despite how much I love to read books, I held off on buying an ebook reader.

But I decided I could no longer stay on the ebook sidelines given the rapidly evolving dynamics of the newspaper industry (free Internet news, free Internet classifieds, young people turning elsewhere for news, etc.), leading to massive layoffs and smaller newspaper staffs. If I’m going to stay in journalism, I must embrace the changes. And newspapers must stay on top of technology, while not jumping on the technology bandwagon just because it’s cool. It must also make good business sense (some of my newsroom brethren may shy away from this conclusion, but the paper must make money to pay our salary).

Paywalls, or the practice of charging for news content, were a disaster for most general interest newspapers – it worked better for journals and other publishers of niche content. People had gotten used to reading free news on the Internet, and watching the television news. But there is some hope for newspapers. The popularity of ebook readers, starting with the Kindle, have gotten people used to using technology to download both free, classic books, and to buy more modern books for discounted prices (the discounted prices may or may not remain in force, but that topic is for another blog). Many of the large newspapers, from the Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, to regional papers like The Arizona Republic, have embraced the Kindle. The prices I have seen vary from $5.99 per month to $14.99 per month.

A Jan. 8, 2011, story on The (UK) Telegraph’s Web site says Sony has inked a deal with News Corp. to offer the Wall Street Journal and The New York Post on Sony’s Reader series of ebook readers. The Telegraph quotes Robert Thomson, the WSJ’s editor-in-chief, as saying the paper would earn a more favorable revenue cut than the 30 percent that Amazon.com pays content providers on average.

It would not seem ideal to sell a monthly subscription for as little as $5.99, since this is much lower than what a normal print subscription would cost. And ebook newspaper readers do not yet receive the advertisements available in print editions. But as more people use ebook readers, newspapers can start selling ebook-only ads to make up for some of the revenue. And receiving a cut of $5.99 or $14.99 per month is better than not receiving anything. Newspapers did not reach their recently departed financial glory days for many years.

Ebooks like the Kindle and tablet computers like the iPad are making people accustomed to paying for content once again, and hopefully can help newspapers regain some of their lost luster. Relying on this technology is not a perfect solution, but it’s preferable to burying our heads in the sand and hoping that news Web sites will sell enough ads to make up for lost ground.

The next blog: When a Kindle is not a Kindle – Read books on your mobile phone

Starfish-style challenges


What do you do when you’ve always charged for delivering a service or product and some Web site comes along and offers something much like it for free?

That’s been the question plaguing the music recording, news and software companies for some time.

I recently came across a book published in 2006 that takes a fascinating look at this phenomenon: “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations,” by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The authors take a look at movements/organizations that defy the traditional leadership model of “Who’s in charge?” Sometimes, no one is in charge. The Aztecs had Montezuma and a capital city, and were easily wiped out by the Spanish who killed the leader. The Apache had no centralized leader and no capital, and thus were better equipped to fight off attacks by armies from developed nations who looked for traditional targets to strike. But the book’s authors say that also describes the recording music industry’s attempts to fight off Napster: They effectively killed that one Web site, but their efforts antagonized people and spawned lots of imitators.

The authors write that Craigslist provided an unexpected challenge to the newspaper industry. Why pay for a newspaper classified when you can advertise a product for free all over the world? Likewise, why subscribe to a newspaper when you can read it for free online?

Newspapers learned to combine ad sales for print and online editions, as well as partnering with sites like CareerBuilder. After many newspapers dropped their attempts to subscriptions for stories, some organizations are taking a second look. My newspaper, The Daily Post-Athenian, already has returned to the online subscription model.

Platforms like the Kindle and the iPad hold out some hope of helping newspapers get digital media users accustomed to paying for content (the Wall Street Journal costs only $14.99 a month on the Kindle, and slightly more on the iPad).

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