Whither the Nook?

Nook Press logo newOh, Nook, how we have loved you. We had such hopes that you and your parent, Barnes & Noble, would successfully challenge Amazon’s dominance of the e-reader market – thereby giving indie authors a home if (or when, as some muttered darkly) the Zon turned on us at last. You didn’t come through for us, but still we’ve had a soft spot in our hearts for you. After all, yours was the first e-reader platform, after KDP, to give indies a direct route into a store, first with PubIt and then with Nook Press (which turned out to be PubIt with a new skin, but never mind that). Sure, you didn’t offer us the kinds of promotional options KDP did – or any promotional options, actually – and it’s true that your venerable parent didn’t give us shelf space in its brick-and-mortar stores, nor did it play fair with sales rankings in its online store. But you gave us a home that wasn’t Amazon. You liked us! You really liked us!

And then you expanded to the UK, and we thought, “Forget that upstart iTunes thing. Nook’s going to take off!”

But it didn’t. And then Kobo came along, and everybody had an iPhone, and we were all ordering everything from Amazon anyway.

All this time, Nook, B&N has been trying to figure out what to do with you. The Nook Tablet that was nicer than the Fire was handicapped from the start; users had access to only a curated collection of Android apps. Then Amazon undercut the $349 Nook Tablet by pricing its Fire at $199. Amazon could afford the loss, but B&N couldn’t.

All this time, sales of paper books were declining, further hurting B&N’s bottom line. And the Nook, which was supposed to be B&N’s savior, continues to be a drag on revenues.  The most recent quarterly financial results for B&N show sales have dropped by 1.8% over the same period a year ago (although sales of adult coloring books were a bright spot). And the Nook division lost nearly $50 million from April 1, 2015, to the end of the year. That’s about one-third less than the division lost in the same period in 2014, but still — $50 million.

Which goes a long way to explain the emails Nook owners and Nook Press authors received recently. For one thing, B&N is pulling out of the UK, handing the management of customers’ app purchases to Sainsbury’s Entertainment on Demand this week. (If you live in the UK and you have a Nook, be aware that the process won’t be seamless; watch your email for what you need to do.)

For authors, it means your Nook Press eBooks will no longer be for sale in the UK. Readers who have bought them previously will get to keep their copies, but any new eBooks you upload from now on will be available only in the United States.

In addition, the Nook Store will no longer sell third-party apps; Nook owners will have to shop for their apps at Google Play.

Having decided last year not to sell off the Nook division, after all, B&N appears to be trimming the division’s budget as close to the bone as it can. What that means for the future of Nook Press isn’t clear. The digital side has always appeared to be a bare-bones operation, and B&N farmed out the print side, which is also known as Nook Press Author Services, to Author Solutions last year.

On the bright side, B&N doesn’t plan to close as many brick-and-mortar stores this year as it thought it would have to, and it even plans to open four new concept stores sometime in 2017. No one is saying yet what those concepts will be. But I’d bet the Nook won’t be one of them.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

14 thoughts on “Whither the Nook?”

  1. I tried to list my books directly through Nook a few years ago, but it was such a headache, I switched back to Smashwords for B&N sales. Formatting and uploading were no problem, but waiting to get enough sales to be paid royalties was the clincher.

    1. My sales through them were always slow, too, Greta. I tried B&N’s platform while it was still PubIt, and stuck with it for a little while after they changed the name to Nook Press. But eventually I went back to Smashwords, too.

  2. The B&N (Nook Press) channel has always been a non-sales producer for me. I first listed my books through Smashwords and I eventually went direct through Nook Press, thinking that going direct might give my books a little more visibility. After a couple of years, it hasn’t made any difference.

    Kobo rolled out (in Beta) a new promotions dashboard tab. Amazon (KDP) of course has many promotion options. Nook? Nothing. They don’t seem to be trying.

    1. They haven’t ever tried, really, Bruce. It was a big deal when they started offering a phone number you could call for help, instead of just pointing you toward a FAQ.

      Good to hear about Kobo. I’m funneling my books to them via Smashwords, too — but if they offer promotions to indies, that would be a reason to upload directly to them.

      1. The Kobo promo tool is in Beta, so you’ll need to request that it be set up on your dashboard. They offer several promo opportunities per genre (some by special selection), and the cost structure can vary (upfront or percentage of sales). I’m trying one out starting in April, which will last two weeks and cost me 10% in royalties. I’m hopeful it will lead to some sales activity and exposure, because like Nook, Kobo hasn’t been an active sales channel for me in the past.

  3. Thank you, Lynne. Listing my books there, before I took them to KDPS, was a real headache. I’ve been shaking my head at some of their marketing efforts ever since. And after one attempt to order books from B&N for my brand-new Nook, it was clear that their customer service could use some improvement, to put it nicely. So, I’m not surprised at these new developments.

    1. I’m not, either, Laurie. I think it would have been a better move for B&N to just spin off the Nook division, as they’d originally planned to do — although I don’t know all the ins and outs of the decision, obviously.

  4. Nook results used to be pretty impressive for me if I could get a BookBub ad in — but that’s another thing that seems it’s no longer really available to indies in any significant way anymore. Google Play finally drove me so insane with its discounting that I pulled out. And although Kobo still offers some exposure in Canada, Australia, etc., it’s nothing to write home about. I think it’s harder and harder for any indie author to justify not going Kindle Select. Which is unfortunate, if only because there we never know when, say, someone will decide our table of contents is in the wrong place and cut us off at the knees.

    1. Select does look like a safe haven right now — which may or may not prove to be unfortunate. I’d still like to see someone mount an effective challenge to Amazon’s indie publishing model

      About the ToC thing: I think KDP’s heart was in the right place, but the execution has been ham-handed. I have no problem at all with Amazon cracking down on people who are trying to game the page-count system; in fact, I think it’s laudable. However, I wish they had found some way to fine-tune the tool so that it took out only short books with a link in the front to a contest entry in the back, and other similar gotcha tricks — instead of dinging people who put their ToC at the back in order to give Look Inside readers more of the actual text to base a buying decision on.

  5. Interesting post, Lynne.

    On a frivolous note: they called it ‘Pubit’? (You will gather I haven’t come across this platform before. From Lynne’s post I can see why – also, I’m in the UK). But ‘Pubit’? Really? Even something like ‘PubNook’ might have been less unfortunate.

    I agree that The Zon will turn on self-publishers. I believe it has begun. Indeed, I believe it has started to turn on its customers generally. And it is no surprise. It could not continue to make a loss in so many (all?) areas of its enterprises for ever, just to drive everybody else to the wall. When people say, aghast, ‘Amazon pays no tax’, I am unsurprised: even now I don’t think they make much profit, although their turnover is enormous.

    1. LOL, Judi! Yes, and actually it was PubIt! — with a capital “i” and an exclamation point, so nobody would get confused. 😉 Maybe that’s why they changed the name to Nook Press…

      I’m one of the folks (the dwindling few, maybe 😉 ) who think Amazon is fairly benign, as corporations go. They seem to be more interested in being innovative than in making money — although Jeff Bezos must be doing okay, as he had the cash to buy the Washington Post.

  6. I think you did an admirable job of defending the Nook. However, your opening statement said it all, as far as I’m concerned. Nook (B & N) did NOTHING to help Indies. In fact it disparaged them. I published six books (all had done well in Amazon’s KDP Select program) through Pubit, and I can count on one hand the number of sales that were generated via that outlet. It was almost as though B & N (Nook) was grudgingly “permitting” us Indies access to their brand, without any support at all.
    Say what you will about the Zon, but thanks to KDP, many more thousands of readers worldwide have read my books and those of other indie authors-and paid us handsomely in the process.
    Good article, though! 🙂

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