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

Is Apple all that?


This report by Douglas A. McIntyre with 24/7 Wall St makes a case for Apple (AAPL) as the second-most valuable corporation in America, after Exxon Mobil, in terms of market value.

Apple posted record revenue of $20.34 billion in the third quarter of 2009. Revenue was up 66 percent from the same quarter a year ago. The total value of Exxon Mobil’s shares creates a market cap of $362 billion, while Apple’s is $284 billion. That’s ahead of such giants as Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

McIntyre cites analysts, who point to Apple’s rapid growth, which he says is unmatched by any other major American corporation. With hot-selling iPhones, iPads and Mac computers, the analysts may be right.

 

But I can’t help thinking of the changing taste of consumers. Exxon deals with oil, perhaps the world’s most valuable commodity, while Wal-Mart of course sells such a large diversity of products and has a reputation of selling for less. Apple has done well to move beyond simply selling computers. Yes, Apple’s products are fashionable. But they are only into one segment of the economy: consumer electronics. Changing consumer preferences or bad publicity (such as the iPhone antenna problem) or the eventual loss of magnate Steve Jobs could upset the Apple cart. So I would urge caution when looking at Apple as an investment. What goes up can — and often will — go down.

 

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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