Thursday, January 5, 2012

The beginning of the end for B&N?

I have long been a proponent of digital reading. Two past two-plus years of my publishing career have been a complete whirlwind -- today I sold my 3,000th book, with about 2,900 of those copies as ebooks -- and have changed my stance on everything in life. I do, on occasion, buy ink and paper books -- I recently bought six Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker and inhaled them in less than two days -- but a majority of my reading dollars goes to digital. But that's not what I want to discuss with you today.

I've blogged in the past about Barnes & Noble's jump into the ereader market with its Nook. I've blogged about how Borders dropped the ball and didn't come up with its own ereader, instead aligning itself with Kobo's device (which is not a slight against Kobo, please understand that). I've also blogged about how Barnes & Noble gave itself five extra years of life by doing what Borders didn't. I wrote about that in 2010.

And now news today has broken. Barnes & Noble is exploring the spinning off of the Nook from its longtime brick-and-mortar business.

Before we -- read: those who own Nook ereaders -- jump into a panic over this, let's clear a few things up right from the top: this is early talk. Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal posted stories about this today. This is, as B&N suggests, exploratory work. B&N indicates that the Nook is doing so well that it wants to help the device grow on its own. That is all well and good.

The articles also speculate that not all is well at B&N. Cue the doom and gloom music.

It's too early to speculate exactly what's going to happen. But I don't think it would be tough to envision what would happen if B&N decides to split it away.

Besides, I like to speculate. It wouldn't just be me if I didn't do exactly that, right?

The numbers in the NY Times story tell the tale: B&N's stock has fallen 5.2 percent in the last year to $13.55 after Wednesday's trading. Digital content and Nook sales rose 43 percent during the fourth quarter from 2010, while sales in brick-and-mortar stories rose only 2.5 percent.

Yeesh.

It only continues to show that readers, just like on Amazon, are leaning toward digital. Ereaders and eBooks have turned into the preferred method of reading. There is no use denying this any longer.

Now...

What does this mean for the B&N in your area? Right now, probably nothing. It will continue to do business -- for now.

I repeat: for now.

Personally, to separate the one thing that buoys a business from its parent is something I don't believe would be sound business practice, especially with the loss of Borders so fresh in readers' minds. B&N did separate GameStop from it some eight years ago, but those are two completely different entities -- video games and books. If it separates the Nook from its stores, B&N will fall the way of Borders in the time that I noted. With no one coming into the stores for the Nook, there would be no reason to stay open. Right? By 2015, B&N will more than likely start selling off its physical assets.

Except for the Nook. Note that I say this. The Nook would continue for some time, and B&N, if it splits Nook away, would do its best to maintain a foothold in the device. There would be no need for the brick-and-mortar bookstore if B&N changes its business model to do away with the physical bookstore and instead continue with the digital/online presence. Whether or not the Nook will be enough to keep B&N afloat post-physical liquidation, of course, is anyone's guess.

I am a proponent of digital reading. I want more people to buy ereaders -- whether or not its Kindle or Nook, that no longer matters to me -- and buy my books on them. My book prices are the same for both ereaders.

Whatever happens to B&N, happens. I will be sad to see it go.

Whenever it goes.

www.seansweeneyauthor.com