E-READER WARS

Barnes & Noble’s Last Stand? The New Nook Doubles Down on War with Amazon.com, Starring Foot Soldier Danielle Steele

danielle steele 320x240mtq4oq Barnes & Nobles Last Stand? The New Nook Doubles Down on War with Amazon.com, Starring Foot Soldier Danielle Steele

B & N Nook spokesperson Danielle Steele.

They’re those people: the human being who buys a tablet that isn’t Apple’s iPad. They’re like Pepsi drinkers: Who are they? Why aren’t they drinking Coca Cola? What makes them decide to take the road less traveled (and defined) than everyone else? WHAT IS THE APPEAL OF THIS SPECIFIC BRAND IDENTITY? Etc. Whoever the hell they are, Barnes & Noble has just thrown a huge bet down, and it’s not just banking on that crowd, but the potential to win that crowd from the clutches of nu-publishing behemoth Amazon.com. How?

Well, for one thing, they’re hoping these people really love terrible books and Glee.

Jeff Bercovici at Forbes reports on Barnes & Noble’s latest offensive using their own e-reader product, the Nook, and how they plan on selling it on this odd contingent of semi-committed tablet buyers, like a political play for undecideds:

The pitch for Barnes & Noble’s new Nook tablet couldn’t be simpler: Thinking about buying Amazon‘s Kindle Fire? Buy our tablet instead. It’s lighter, faster and more powerful, and it comes with what amounts to free Wi-Fi and in-person tech support — all for just fifty bucks more.

Unfortunately, there are a few caveats to this:

  • It’s $50 more.
  • It doesn’t run a full Android OS.
  • That free Wi-Fi is only accessible at specific hotspots.
  • A Wi-Fi connection is required for optimal use of the Nook, which is designed “primarily for streaming.”
  • Third-party services play heavily into the Nook’s use (Netflix, Hulu, Pandora), which creates a liability for users that B & N can’t account for.

Asking yourself ‘What’s better about this thing again?’ It’s an entirely fair question. Per Bercovici:

Lynch argued that its advantage in memory alone — 16 gigabytes unexpanded, versus 8 gigabytes for the Fire, and a 2-to-1 advantage in RAM — makes up for the gap.

Also, they really think that whole Free Wi-Fi and in-house support is going to help. Problems? Sure:

  • Any business who wants to put new feet (or simply more feet) on their property can mount free Wi-Fi. Which goes without mentioning all the cities and small municipalities who are now making wireless access free to everyone, which unequivocally undermines this selling point.
  • When buyers are thinking about what they’re about to buy, they’re considering (A) whether or not it’s what they want and (B) the hole it’s going to put in their pocket. Here’s what buyers aren’t thinking about: the day the thing they’re about to buy breaks. Also, Amazon’s potential solutions for this are pretty easy: Buy storefronts or partner with a wireless provider for service kiosks. Or if they want to get really crafty and craven, simply certify Kindle Techs across America and support old-school IT support small businesses and when the local Amazon Kindle Fixer Guy only makes the problem worse, well (A) at least he’s there! and (B) he doesn’t work for Amazon, per se.
  • Finally: More storage volume at cheaper prices sure didn’t help the Zune. Remember the Zune? Nobody else does, either.

So how are they going to sell against these totally obvious points? Well, with democracy! Via NYT’s Media Decoder:

“The Kindle Fire, and they do a lot of things well, is a vending machine for Amazon services,” Mr. Lynch said. “We’re going to partner with the world’s most popular music services. We’re going to let the consumers choose.”

A smart strategy, given that people will clearly never buy products—and especially Tablet devices—which basically acts as a monopoly machine forcing users into buying products from a single source. Failing that? BRING OUT THE PITCH-PEOPLE! Serious celebrity power up in this:

With the Nook Tablet hitting stores next week, Barnes & Noble is rolling out a marketing campaign with spots starring Jane Lynch, James Patterson and Danielle Steel. It’s the biggest such campaign the company has ever mounted, in support of a business that Lynch said would generate $1.8 billion in revenue this year.

If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about what Barnes & Noble does and doesn’t understand about the E-Reader buying demographic—besides the fact that they obviously like to spend more money for features they can generally get for free around the world—this will:

“This is a business that was a PowerPoint slide two years ago,” he said.

Yeah, maybe to Barnes & Noble. Clearly. If they keep up this talk, Barnes & Noble is going to a PowerPoint slide on how to send your business careening over a cliff that’s in very, very plain sight.

fkamer@observer.com | @weareyourfek

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