Probably the most annoying matter, where Apple and Google are the biggest offenders, is…
“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.”
― Douglas Adams
I am all for new and innovative ebook formats and business models like Slicebooks re-mixable ebooks and applaud the courage of the small companies that are innovating and pushing ebook evolution but I also worry that that is where the problem of the recent slowing of ebook growth really lies. The only innovations are coming from small, young companies that have little traffic and overwhelming odds stacked against them. Because of DRM segregation and the theory of creating consumer concentration camps we have gone from a garden environment were seeds are allowed to grow to a coo coo bird environment where eggs can only hatch if laid in Amazon’s nest.
With all the talk of Nook being in trouble wouldn’t this be a perfect opportunity for Barnes & Noble (and the Big 6) to refocus back on the book instead of the device? What if Barnes & Noble dropped DRM and started making my ebooks available to anyone with any ebook reader and gave consumers more options on how to buy ebook content like chuncking and monthly subscriptions. People ultimately just want the same simplicity of buying a print book, and the same selection. B&N can compete if they open their borders and force Amazon to become like Apple was to Microsoft, the “closed society”. You have to give readers more freedom than Amazon if you hope to compete. Why not tear down DRM, the Berlin wall of ecommerce? Study after study shows piracy has little effect on actual retail sales. All DRM does is force consumers to have to take a risk in making a choice and then it reminds them every day that the gate is locked behind them. I have yet to find one positive consumer interaction with DRM, it is just a tool for saying no. Instead of fostering a free market society the current ebook retail environment is creating little North Koreas and East Berlins were no one can innovate unless the state does.
Rather than making reading easier like ebooks originally promised, by making it about the devices (which are just cup-holders) Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble have only succeeded in making buying a book as stressful as buying car.
Barnes & Noble is the only retailer large enough and in position to compete with Amazon and because of it’s brick and mortar business the only one with the buying leverage to push publishers and authors to get behind dropping DRM for ebooks once and for all.
The window is open. If not now when?
A recent Slate post called The End of Barnes & Noble mistakes devices as what Barnes & Noble sells.
iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc are devices - like televisions. B&N sells books - like what you watch on televisions, and iPads, Kindles, and smartphones via Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and torrents. As we move rapidly to new content business models it is important to remember that the Nook is sold on barnesandnoble.com not the other way around.
Barnes & Noble is not necessarily grinding to a halt but instead divesting itself of an expensive electronics product line that has low margin and quickly becoming irrelevant as content becomes web based. As Amazon becomes more like Walmart and other big box retailers B&N may see that their strength lies in brand recognition. If you want a book go to the bookstore you know - online or brick & mortar. As we become more device agnostic B&N has a massive strategic advantage over Amazon in that they are a complete social experience with physical locations as gathering points in every State and major market across the country. Their name is synonymous with books. Their website is not bogged down in labyrinthine patches of proprietary code so they can perhaps be more limber and reactive in creating a more social and complete experience for a passionate and dedicated audience of book lovers.
Jettisoning Nook may actually be B&N’s best strategic move in the last 5 years. It may give them their best chance in competing for audience as books move from commodity to media and retailers move sellers of product to streaming channels of content on a global convergent screen.
Why eBook publishers and retailers need to drop DRM.