May 15, 2013

No Nooks in England: ereaders sell out after “unprecedented demand”


“‘Allo Guvna, where have all the Nooks gone? Are they in your lorry?” – British people

Well, it can’t all be bad news, I guess. After dropping the price of their Nook Simple Touch (I’m pretty sure it’s called the Nouk Simple Touch across the pond) from £79 to £29, Barnes & Noble has seen “unprecedented demand” for the ereader and, as a result, they’re sold out in “almost all retail locations.” According to Michael Kozlowski of Good Ereader, “even the main B&N website is showing the ereader as ‘Sold Out.'” But wait, there’s more:

Not only has the discounted Simple Touch seen success with the price drop, but the brand name is at record levels of visibly. This is primarily attributed to the sponsorship of the London Evening Standard’Get London Reading campaign, and B&N also donated 1,000 e-readers to the national literacy charity Beanstalk.

I know what you’re thinking—“But, Alex, couldn’t the fact that Barnes & Noble is practically giving their ereaders away be another sign of their impending demise?” Well, yes and no, but at least they’re not actually giving them away, like they did here in the States back in March. As my colleague Dustin Kurtz reported then:

The difficulty with all of this hue and cry is that it is both right and wrong. B&N may well be on the way out, but this deal is not necessarily symptomatic of that. That fate is scrawled on the wall, and yes, it is written in surplus e-ink. But if… free ereaders have become inevitable in this marketplace, catering to that necessity is at the very least a sign that B&N is about on par with everyone else when they offer them now.

That is to say, they are on par with their competitors in pricing mutually profitless devices, and falling behind in the goal of the devices—to grab a share of an increasingly balkanized ebook reader market.

Now that Nook HD tablets are offering Google Play, the Simple Touch (why do these things sound like an easily frightened person’s sex toys?) is the go-to device, while still in production at least, with which to hook readers into the Nook ebook marketplace. The Simple Touch is the ereader for people who don’t want Angry Birds or Temple Run or decidedly unbookish things like audio and video. More importantly for Barnes & Noble, Simple Touch owners can only go to one place to make purchases: Barnes & Noble. Having undercut their own market by offering Google Play on the Nook HD, practically giving away Simple Touches is one way for Barnes & Noble to keep customers locked into its marketplace.

In other slow death of Barnes & Noble news, the company’s stock fell back to earth yesterday, losing most of what it gained as a result of last week’s rumor that Microsoft was looking to acquire the Nook. The plunge was set in motion by a source who told the website Insider Monkey (I know) that:

“This deal was nothing more than a rumor,” says the source, according to Insider Monkey. “Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) will not come out and deny or confirm for legal reasons, but the company has no intention of acquiring the NOOK unit.”

So, the brief boom is over and Barnes & Noble may remain a hardware company after all, in which case we can continue to expect them to periodically shoot themselves in the foot.

Still, I did find the sudden plunge to be a bit of a shock, as my father recently bought a Nook, which certainly suggests that the company has locked down the lucrative “cool dads” demographic. That said, my dad was certain that digital tapes were going to be the next big thing for years (and held onto this hope until 2003), so maybe this isn’t such a great sign after all.


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