The short version:
- Create a first rate storefront+reader on Android and the web.
- Shift more resources into the iOS app and make it better than anybody else’s.
- Perform a series of commerce-oriented experiments, e.g. subscriptions, bundling, in-book payments, etc.
This ignores quite a bit of history. And that history matters.
1) We had storefront-only booksellers before. Fictionwise and eReader. They did not expand eBooks much. They created the market but where are they today? Gone.
2) Sony needed its Reader to create an eBook market as an eBook market.
3) Bezos could have easily gone with ePub and sold to Sony Reader owners, but did not. He knew a device was required.
4) Barnes & Noble’s hardware actually expanded the eBook market. Many of those print customers who frequented their stores were won over. They never bought Kindles.
5) Barnes & Noble retreating totally from hardware is a formula for utter failure. There is just no reason to buy from a Barnes & Noble eBook store, period.
6) Like it or not, Barnes & Noble is in the hardware business. Opening their hardware to full Android would improve sales. Their hardware is not bad, the way they lock them down is the problem.
7) Given a level playing field where all eBook vendors are just an app, Amazon still wins. The “universality” of ePub becomes a moot point because Kindle books can be read via an app, via a desktop program, and via the web. People don’t care about file formats. They just want to read.
8) Barnes & Noble has already burned too many people with their crappy customer service. Dumping their hardware would be the last straw for whatever customers they still have.
9) The main problem for everybody remains higher up in the food chain: Book publishers. Until eBook vendors are free to sell as they wish, price as they wish, bundle as they wish, nothing progressive is possible. Everyone is hamstrung by the publishers. It’s the “Let’s you and him fight” trick.
I’m even leaving out how Barnes & Noble sold eBook hardware in-store years before Amazon even thought of eBooks. But it’s fruitless to ask to turn back the clock and have a Do Over where Barnes & Noble (read: eBook-hater Len Riggio) wakes up to eBooks earlier than Bezos did and commits itself to the future.
For now, I maintain the best thing for Barnes & Noble to do is open all its hardware to Android. They must stem their hardware investment losses first and that would be a huge help. The Nook HD+ is very good hardware but its window of opportunity is going to be slammed shut within the next two months. Aside from Archos, there’s the rumored Nexus 7.7 coming up. Barnes & Noble needs a bold move just to stand their ground until they can figure out their next best step in hardware. And they can still offer what no one else can: An open Android eInk tablet.