September 6, 2013

Barnes & Noble: still making Nooks, still liquidating inventory in the UK, still breaking hearts


Will they? Won’t They? WHO CARES! I’m just along for the ride.

Over the past few months, Barnes & Noble and the Nook have joined Ross and Rachel, Buffy and Angel, and Dawson and Joey in the pantheon of great on again/off again couples.

It started back in May when Barnes & Noble got its beau some fancy new jewelry in the form of the Google Play app. But, being the brooding hunk that it is, playing nice just wasn’t in the cards–at the exact same time that it added Google Play, it also dramatically cut prices in both the US and the UK. The Nook didn’t like that. A few days later, the word in Mrs. MacIntosh’s homeroom class was that the Nook had had enough of all the pushing and pulling and was leaving B&N for Microsoft. Barnes & Noble shaped up for a bit after that and the rumors stopped (Microsoft shrugged and mumbled, “Whatever, I wasn’t that into it anyway”), but the troubled yet irresistible bookstore hadn’t changed its ways. A month later, it cut prices again, leading many (including me) to speculate that the relationship was on the rocks.

Then, the inevitable breakup: at the end of June, the company said it would no longer produce Nook tablets in house, to no one’s real surprise. We all saw it coming.

But America’s sweethearts had to get back together: last month, Barnes & Noble was all like, “Breakup, what breakup? WE HAVE NEVER BEEN STRONGER (and we will continue to design and develop Nook tablets forever, haters!!) Sure, it was a “train wreck.” But nothing could keep these two apart:

Well, just two weeks after the reconciliation, it looks like Barnes & Noble might be back to its old ways. Earlier this week, the struggling retailer announced its second massive price cut of the summer in the UK. Two months after dropping the prices of its 7-inch and 9-inch Nook tablets from £129 and £179, respectively, to £99 and £149 it cut prices again, this time to £79 and £129. The company says that the discounts will continue “while stocks last,” which may not be long–back in May, it dramatically slashed the prices of its Nook Simple Touch and quickly sold out of its flagship ereader.

So what does it mean for the couple’s future? Well, as Laura Hazard Owen observed on Wednesday, “Sales like this one… suggest that the company is trying to clear out inventory.” But, as usual, it’s not quite clear what the intention is. They could be trying to expand their consumer base. They could be trying to discontinue these particular models. Perhaps they’re trying to discontinue these particular models in advance of the launch of Amazon‘s new, improved Kindle Paperwhite. Maybe they just really, really love sales. But, whether or not Barnes & Noble and the Nook turn into Ross and Rachel or Sid and Nancy, one thing is clear: fall sweeps is going to rule.


Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.