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Barnes & Noble’s eBookstore Is Neither Sound Nor Fury

I had to write this post after reading all the headlines on Twitter about Barnes and Noble’s ebookstore presenting real competition for the Amazon Kindle.    It’s not and here’s why.

First, BN’s ebookstore is simply that, a store. There is no device.   Kindle captured the burgeoning ebook crowd not because it simply provided books in digital but because there was a bookstore tied to a device that made purchasing so simple you could explain it to your mom or your five year old.

Second, BN has no such device and there are no plans to release such a device until 2010.   2010 is a long way off. The fabled Apple tablet may have come by then. The PixelQi netbook that has a dual screen (eink like and straight LCD) may have captured the attention of the market.   2010 is eons away in technological time.   Further, there is no confirmation that BN will even sell the device. Instead, the news is that BN will be the exclusive content provider of digital books for the Plastic Logic device. Have you seen the Plastic Logic device? It’s big which means expensive (the Kindle Dx cost $449) and unweildy.

Third, BN price matching Amazon gives people no incentive to leave Amazon if they are already customers there.   Without a matching device, how many existing customers are going to suddenly start reading on their iPhones or laptops who are not already ebook readers?   Certainly not enough to challenge Amazon’s domination. People who are already ebook readers understand that there are a plethora of stores and price matching opportunities out there.

Fourth, BN’s inflated book count of 700,000 includes over 500,000 public domain books fed by Google Book.   Of the remaining books, BN.com’s ebook store has the worst content availability.   This morning is the release of Meredith Duran’s ebooks, Bound by Your Touch and Written on Your Skin.   Neither books are available at BN.com.   Both are on sale at Fictionwise.com, BooksonBoard.com, and Amazon. BN is not even winning the simple content game.

Fifth, BN promises multiformats but will be wrapping those formats in it’s own DRM.   BN promises that its books WON’T be compatible with the Sony Reader or the Kindle.   Just what we readers need and want.

BN brought nothing new to the game.   It’s offering eReader format which are already available at ereader.com or fictionwise.com, both vendors offering customer rewards programs that BN is not.   It’s not a leap to say that these two sites, owned by BN, will be totally subsumed into the BN.com ebook site, but until that time, there is no incentive for a reader to leave eReader.com or Fictionwise.com.

The roll out of BN.com’s ebookstore brings nothing new. It’s not a Kindle killer. It’s barely competition for the existing ebook stores out there.   Frankly, it was aweak rollout.   If this is the understanding of the market that BN has in its upper management, it will be nothing but a failure.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. MarnieColette
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 08:21:32

    I test drove their reader on my blackberry — didn’t function well. I am also not happy with the fact that I won’t be able to use it on my sony reader. Can’t they figure out an easy system for us so that we can you use what we want to reader the book we paid for?

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  2. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 08:26:29

    Fifth, BN promises multiformats but will be wrapping those formats in it's own DRM. BN promises that its books WON'T be compatible with the Sony Reader or the Kindle. Just what we readers need and want.

    I’m so freaken sick of proprietary DRM. *sigh* I have a CyBook, and it works with a whole slew of formats, but I can’t buy from Amazon (even though they own MobiPocket and I can use that format) and Fictionwise frequently has books up only in eReader, which sucks out loud (I have to strip the DRM and convert the book, which screws up the formatting).

    ENOUGH ALREADY! What part of “readers just want to read” is so hard to understand?

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  3. Jennifer
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 09:19:36

    ENOUGH ALREADY! What part of “readers just want to read” is so hard to understand?

    The part where the bookstore doesn’t come to dominate the competition. They aren’t in the business to provide readers with books, they are in the business to make money. Of course, they’d probably make more money if they figured out how to make books available to readers with the least possible hassle . . . but it doesn’t look like retailers have made that mad leap yet.

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  4. Leah Braemel
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 10:04:40

    Price is an issue. I just bought Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon in hardcover for $9 at my local Chapters store up here in Canada. They want $19 for the eversion compared to $12 at the Sony store. Not that I could buy it from B&N if I wanted to pay that much because the B&N ebooks aren’t available for download outside of the US. So that’s a major fail for me. Especially since I’m a Sony Reader owner.

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  5. Laurel Ann
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 10:49:58

    @Jennifer: They aren't in the business to provide readers with books, they are in the business to make money.

    Barnes & Noble is a book retailer, not a library. They provide readers with books. That is how they make their money. They need to make money to stay in business and sell more book. This is a basic law of economics.

    So, this new eBook store is not all that it should be. 2010 is five months away. B&N is the world’s biggest book retailer with great resouces. They will lick their wounds and come back fightin.

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  6. Heather
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 10:50:20

    I will go digital when I can buy what I want when I want it and read it on whatever device I choose. I am terrified to invest in a reader then find out I cannot purchase the books I want. I am all for going digital since it will save paper and save space in my home.

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  7. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 11:03:37

    They aren't in the business to provide readers with books, they are in the business to make money. Of course, they'd probably make more money if they figured out how to make books available to readers with the least possible hassle . . . but it doesn't look like retailers have made that mad leap yet.

    This is the thing I don’t get with Amazon. They could capture MORE readers if they’d sell in Kindle and Mobipocket format (I know I’d buy from them like mad). It just irks me when I can’t get a book I want (or when I have to pay more for it . . . like the newest Sabrina Jeffries book: It’s like $4 cheaper at Fictionwise than it is at the Mobipocket store, but for some reason Fictionwise only has the eReader version for sale!).

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  8. DS
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 11:10:35

    I love gadgets. I have several ipods, an iphone, two media servers, a dual television tuner that lets me capture cable video and a bunch of stuff I rarely touch like a Nokia touchscreen table and a Wince Tablet I started reading ebooks on a couple of years ago.

    But I only read ebooks now on my Kindles and my iphone. The reason is not any type of loyalty to Amazon and Apple (not even a Seasame Street fascination with the letter A). I buy new tech simply because it has better or different features. There was a great gadget called a Take TV that is no longer being made that I bought and gave to a couple of people as Christmas presents I thought it was so great, so it’s not even a case of something being new. When someone comes out with an ereader that has new or better features or is maybe eve more stylish, I’ll probably buy that too. But I haven’t been tempted to put my Kindles (or iphone) down by anything else I have seen– and I look a lot.

    B&N would have to offer something I’m not getting from Amazon to get me to move off my current position. I don’t see that they are doing it right now– and not some complicated rebate program either.

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  9. Gina
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 11:31:22

    I have a My B&N account where I keep my library and saw big banners for this a few weeks ago, only when I clicked on them nothing was there. Today after reading your post I looked again and sure enough there it is.

    As I buy 99% romance and 1% technology books, I was surprised that my recommended EBooks included three books from their Classics series AND a Pocket Dictionary.

    Huh…

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  10. Why The B&N Store Isn’t Competition for Amazon | Booksquare
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 13:26:42

    [...] of the Kindle ecosystem. It’s not competition for Amazon or the Kindle in any meaningful way. Jane Litte notes, and I agree, that the Barnes & Noble store won’t entice customers from Amazon. [...]

  11. Mireya
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 13:28:09

    This is DoA to me.

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  12. Jane O
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 16:24:59

    I know many of you are very fond of e-readers and e-books, but…

    Practically everyone I know is a reader, and the book-a-week variety, not the book-a-year variety, reading every kind of book from trashy to scholarly and abstruse. Of them all, only one owns a e-reader, and she’s rich. No one else has the slightest interest in paying $200-$300 for a device that was never needed before. And you still need your eyes.

    I would like to suggest a different model for e-publishing:

    1. Give the e-readers away. Free.

    2. All e-books should be readable on all devices.

    3. Publishers could rent out their books cheaply, say $1 to $2 for a week. I assume that if Amazon can yank back 1984, it wouldn’t be difficult to yank back a book after a week. If I like the book, and want to keep it, I can buy either the e-version or the paper version, same price either way. Paper could be print-on-demand.

    There must be a serious flaw in here, and I’m not sure its in the finances I suspect it would be a lot easier to get five people to shell out $2 apiece to rent a book than it is to sell a $10 e-book to a very narrow segment of the reading public.

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  13. Yes, Virginia, the Barnes & Noble ebookstore is a Good Thing | Gravitational Pull
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 17:41:52

    [...] “Jane” at the DearAuthor blog complains that B&N’s effort lacks a dedicated hardware reader (at least until the Plastic Logic reader arrives next year), includes far fewer books people actually want to read and is using a proprietary format that excludes existing Kindle owners. Kassia Krozser, on her Booksquare blog, makes of some of the same points, concluding: It's great that Barnes & Noble is offering its customers an ebook option. But to pretend they're creating serious competition to the Kindle ecosystem is madness. Let's talk when they have a device and experience that makes the buying and reading of ebooks the best experience technologically possible. [...]

  14. Erin
    Jul 22, 2009 @ 18:10:11

    I wrote B&N a few months ago, saying a lot what you do – how stupid is it to not make their ebooks available for the ebook readers people already have? It’s just like, blam! I’m not their customer because I have a Kindle. And I would have LOVED to be their customer, because Amazon’s such a big bully that I avoid buying from them. But it looks like everyone’s going to be a bully, sigh. Oh well, in another couple years they’ll have figured it out, or else be bankrupt, I guess.

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  15. Terry Odell
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 08:01:16

    As someone with a few romance stories from a digital publisher, I’m just glad there’s now one more distribution point.

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  16. Otis-Anne
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 11:43:35

    My favorite part? The only way to pay for Ebooks appears to be with a credit card. No PayPal, no B&N gift-card (which can be used to purchase print books online, and that’s great ’cause I know that *I* always enjoy my gift more when a chunk of it can go towards shipping). So, again, B&N gift cards can be used online at bn.com, but *not* to purchase ebooks from B&N. Credit card only. What a good idea. Because, in this economy I think we are all trying to use our credit cards as much as possible, and *everything* is more fun if you can add fees and interest.
    My PayPal and I will be shopping elsewhere.

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  17. ardeatine
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 17:42:34

    Won’t their recent purchase of Fictionwise soak up some of these shortcomings? I’m wondering if we can expect a rebranding of Fictionwise at some time. Changes there are already afoot, more categories for erotica, the disappearance of the publisher real-time sales control panel to name two. I was kind of surprised to see B and N opening an ebook store after spending so much money on Fictionwise.

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  18. Terry Odell
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 17:53:32

    My fictionwise short stories with a primarily e-publisher are now on the B&N e-book site. My contact at the publisher said it’s still a work in progress. They don’t have the right covers, and the buy information says “can’t ship outside the US” … um… these are downloads.

    I like the idea that short stories are now available there.

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  19. An eBook Neophyte Takes the Plunge with Barnes & Noble’s new Application « Austenprose
    Aug 06, 2009 @ 00:35:25

    [...] week after the announcement from B&N, many bloggers were chatting about it. The gals at Dear Author were disappointed saying it is not what they were hoping for and brings nothing new to the game. [...]

  20. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Of book linkin’ and kitty prisons
    Nov 18, 2009 @ 18:19:02

    [...] Tele-Read provides some great thinking points about ebooks, reading, and ownership, as does Dear Author. Barnes & Noble’s new ebookstore (complete with their own DRM) gets some thoughtful criticism. [...]

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