Oh, 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.