I was speaking with a friend in the CE industry a few months ago about Nook, and he mentioned an interesting bit of apocrypha. Back when the e-reader race was still an actual competition, Wal-Mart was exploring entering the space with a device of its own. Everyone they talked to in the industry recommended they just buy Nook. However, at the time, the company wasn’t for sale.
Now it probably should be.
As CEOs crumble and demand flattens for Nook hardware products, it’s clear that something needs to change. Three years ago I wrote that the Kindle won. In the intervening years I have rooted hard for Nook, and I have had excellent experiences with all of their products. The Nook Simple Touch is one of my favorite readers and I have seen no material difference between the Kindle and Nook bookstores. In short, Nook shouldn’t have to win… but now it has to lose.
As the company begins unwinding itself from the mess of competition, it should look for a partner that can put it in the remaining millions of homes that don’t have a tablet or e-reader. And that number is fast dwindling. Amazon got into millions of homes over the past few years and, one presumes (they don’t make numbers public), so did Nook. But e-readers, as standalone devices, are now niche, and I’d wager even Amazon is having a hard time selling them. However, if Nook and, say, a retail partner like Wal-Mart could get inexpensive readers in front of folks who may have missed the boat, they could still stem the tide of bad news. However, Nook would no longer be a standalone brand, stalwart against the world. It would, in effect, turn the Nook brand into a badge for OEMs to license. It would, in the end, destroy the brand even as it saves it.
I don’t want Nook to go away. While I could tell early on that it would be a hard road for Barnes & Noble and that Amazon was already a few steps ahead, it’s hard to wish ill on a company that has helped turn reading from a paper-based pursuit into an online habit. The irony is that, before all this, the e-reader helped to gut the thing that birthed the Nook in the first place. I doubt many of us have set foot in a bookstore in the past few months (or years), and that was Nook’s doing. While I don’t want to get too sentimental, it seems that this war is over, as Arnold once said to his love, “the world, which seems/ To lie before us like a land of dreams,/ So various, so beautiful, so new,/ Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,/ Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;/ And we are here as on a darkling plain/ Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/ Where ignorant armies clash by night.”