Clearing Up Some Rumors

‘Cuz with Kindle seizing the Iphone ebook market Tuesday, this was the last best chance for Fictionwise to sell, and congratulations.

So let’s just say, Barnes & Noble is not going broke.  There was a piece about them in the Times some months ago, where I thought it was said they had no debt.  But I guess what they meant was BN had no debt in comparison to Borders, and untapped credit lines or something.

BN isn’t the dominant player it was a decade ago, (only $16 million in cash!) when they talked of buying Ingram.  In addition to giving up on the thing, they’ve gotten out of some other investments (like Xlibris or Authorhouse, whichever of the POD shops they owned) and of late refocused on being both a retailer and a destination (what used to be termed a “third place.”)

Obviously, the earnings in two weeks are going to suck, and some stores (in places like Michigan, Tampa, etc.) will close, but things aren’t that bad in the book market, even outside Amazon’s spectacular performances of late.

If we wanted to talk about what the “right” strategy for BN would be wrt ebooks, I’d say they should recognize Amazon’s extreme advantages, and model their plan on the successful (and quite lucrative) BN Classics strategy.

Namely, license some sort of off-brand E-Ink reader (maybe the Eslick from Foxit), get the price of the thing down to $200, push romance (a Fictionwise strength), and schedule a host of events in their stores (the one thing Amazon can’t do).   In other words, keep everything in house.

Part of what’s amused me about the “Universal Consumer Format” strategy was, for all the talk of “Open-ness,” it was like the Rube Goldberg of retail.  You know, you had a reader from Sony, were stuck getting software from the geniuses at Adobe, opened an account and bought books from Waterstones or BoB, said books were “distributed” through Overdrive at high upfront cost to the publisher, who might or might not at some point get paid, maybe.

That ain’t flat.

Compare to: publisher puts books in Amazon/Mobipocket, Amazon sells books wirelessly to Kindle or Kindle software-using reader, publisher gets paid.

Dat’s flat.

But if BN stays within themselves, and if they go for the romance (erotic or other) markets, and other such markets that they know to be a strength, and if they keep it simple to add content, (support Epub, fine, how about supporting HTML, how about giving Kovid what he needs, how about getting it done in a timely fashion, how about something other than .rtf, how about not charging me to add content to a second-tier market), this could work, and could present enough of a viable competitor to at least keep Amazon honest.

I’m not that optimistic.  The history of ebook mergers & acquisitions has one clear success (Mobipocket), two disasters (Rocket eBook creator NuovoMedia and Softbook by Gemstar), one vagabond (Ereader), and a host of other names nobody else even remembers anymore.

But again, congratulations to the Fictionwise team.

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