Editor’s note: The following opinion piece, written by former Book Business editor-in-chief Brian Howard, originally appeared on the Book Business website back on June 26. The subject this piece covers is, by now, relatively old news. But it’s also a very well-written and smartly reasoned essay. And because this appears to have been the very last e-reading related bit of content produced by Brian before he left North American Publishing Co. for an editorial position with a different employer, we thought it only fitting to reproduce it here.
We’ll miss seeing you around the office, Brian. And we’ll certainly miss reading your always-intuitive takes on the digital publishing business. We wish you the very best of luck on your next editorial adventure. —DE
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Admittedly, the recent Barnes & Noble news could have been much better. In some alternate reality, William Lynch could have gotten on that earnings call and announced that things were so smashingly good for the NOOK tablet business that Barnes & Noble was stepping up production and launching bigger (NOOK HD+ LANDSCAPE) and smaller (THE POCKET NOOK!) versions.
But in this reality, Lynch announced that competing with the likes of Amazon and Apple in the tabletsphere was just not working, and that while it would continue to manufacture its popular NOOK E Ink e-readers (Simple Touch and w/GlowLight) and to develop NOOK apps for other devices, B&N would cease manufacturing NOOK tablets and look for a third-party partner to license and manufacture co-branded NOOK tablets. (There are no partners lined up at present.)
The initial reaction from some outlets painted a picture of gloom, calling this the last chapter or the last stand, going so far as to suggest the end of all NOOK (despite the fact that the e-readers will continue to be developed in-house). This is what news outlets do when given a big story and no time to crunch it. Broad themes are easier than nuanced analysis.
What the stories from the business press like WSJ and Bloomberg are pointing out is that this is a potentially shewd move that will allow NOOK to focus on the channels through which it already sells the majority of its digital content, and shift some of its focus to apps (a.k.a. selling content on someone else‘s devices) and let some deep-pocketed device manufacturer incur the tablet production risk of continuing the NOOK tablet line which B&N has expended so many resources establishing.
More importantly, notes Bloomberg, this move could speed the long-rumored (and oft advocated) cleaving of B&N’s device (e-reader) division from its multi-billion-dollar retail (stores and e-commerce) business.
Importantly, this move doesn’t smack of panic; it seems strategic and calculated. Will it be the move that frees B&N from a, ahem, noble but failed tablet venture and allows it to focus on its strengths of selling what is still quite a lot of content? The move that unbinds what have essentially become two (B&N, NOOK) separate companies linked only by common history? Or is it really just the next move in an endgame with which so many of us have become morbidly fascinated?
I think time will tell on this. What do you think this move means?
This post originally appeared on BookBusinessMag.com.