The Social Networking Potential for eContent
Where Are All the iOS Magazine Subscription Apps?

Why Bookstores Should Cozy Up to Apple

Have you seen the iPad display at your local bookstore?  I haven't either and it doesn't look like we will anytime soon.  The only places you can see an iPad on sale are at the Apple Store or your local BestBuy.

Meanwhile, B&N is still trying to make the Nook fly and Borders is hoping to make a splash with the Kobo.  I hate to break the news but I don't think either of those devices have much of a future ahead of them.  Borders is smart to play the price card, but the only way we'll see a mass market hit here is with a sub-$100 reader.  That means it's nothing more than an eInk display that gets new content by tethering to your smartphone's Internet connection.  I don't see anyone working on one of those and I'm not holding my breath waiting for one.

Even Amazon is obviously feeling the pain.  Remember way back when, as recently as a year ago, Amazon felt they didn't need a brick-and-mortar presence or any advertising other than on their own site?  Now, of course, the Kindle is carried by Target and, although I don't watch a lot of TV, a week never goes by when I don't see a Kindle ad.

Chalk it all up to the iPad.  But rather than trying to fight the iPad with these inferior devices, why not embrace it?  Why shouldn't all the brick-and-mortar bookstores sell iPads?  The big guys obviously want to sell their books on the iPad; that's why B&N and Borders released iPad reader apps weeks ago.  That was smart, now take the next step and become an iPad reseller.

Seriously, have you seen the "Nook specialist" at the front of B&N stores?  This poor employee has the unfortunate job of pulling you over to the Nook display with the hopes of wowing you with the device's many features.  It feels like the teenager serving orange chicken samples on toothpicks in the mall food court, only more awkward.  Imagine the buzz the store would generate if that employee was showing demos of the iPad, featuring the store's app and books.  I guarantee you it would drive a lot more interest than the Nook display (or the almost completely abandoned new media section at my local Borders store, where they try to sell Sony Readers).

And hey, you can keep selling your Nooks, Kobos and whatever other device you want to.  Give your customers a choice and may the best device win.  I'll bet it's the iPad though.

Most importantly, take all that money you're currently wasting to promote your eInk display readers and pour it into iPad app developmentAs I recently suggested to Amazon, become known for offering the most amazing, feature-rich reader app on the Apple platform.  I can already choose from the iBookstore as well as Amazon's and B&N's for my iPad reading, but the reader apps are largely the same, so that means the best price generally wins for me.  More often than not, though, prices are identical across all the stores, so the reading experience becomes the distinguishing factor.  Why not make yours the best, the envy of the entire industry?

P.S. -- When is someone going to create an app that quickly tells me which ebookstore (for iPad reading) offers the best price on the book I'm considering?  Apple probably wouldn't let an app like that slip through, so why not create a website that looks good on the iPad and I'll put a shortcut to it on my home screen?


Bill Seitz

The price comparison seems like a natural for - I've emailed them to ask about it...


Hi Joe,

I couldn't disagree more. Perhaps you're seeing this issue through your publisher goggles? What would a retailer possibly get out of such a move? They'd only confuse their customers, dilute their brands, and drive sales to iBooks, their competitors. All these guys (B&N, Borders, Apple, Amazon, and Sony) are fighting for lock-in of future purchases. Right now, the book-buying public loses, which is a large part of why some people are hanging back from digital purchases.

They're cozy and a fun place to hang out, but bookstores are destined to the same niche as chain-owned record stores. The main purpose of ebooks is to cut out the retail middleman and allow publishers to sell directly to readers. The retail bookstores are running out of gimmicks. Wifi and coffee bars aren't going to change the trends.

I agree that the Nook and Kobo look lame, but I understand why they'd want to keep a toe in the competition. Both Borders and B&N are following Amazon's lead by having AppStore offerings while pushing their own hardware. Ereaders are going to continue to get cheaper, and supporting their own platforms gives all 3 companies some control over their content. The iPad is expensive and is too much computer for many bookstore customers.

I've got a Kindle, an iPhone, and an iPad. I buy my books from Amazon because of price and selection, but also because I can read and sync across all my devices. The iPad is great but surely you can see that it's not for everyone.

The whole market space reminds me of home computers in the early 1980s before DOS and then Windows became a de facto standard. Back then, it didn't make sense for a normal person to splash out for a proprietary $400 sound card for an Amiga. Nowadays, great digital sound is a cheap commodity included with anything you buy. Similarly, I think consumers are holding back until there's a clear, "safe" winner in the field. I think it's going to be Amazon for content and publishing. I don't think the hardware matters in the long run.

Joe Wikert

What would a retailer get from such a move? First of all, revenue. The big ones want to get a piece of the book sales on the iPad, which is why they released apps for it, so why not also get a cut of the device itself? It's the same reason BestBuy is selling them, of course.

And how would this confuse branding any more so than the chains having apps on the device? The simple truth is that as long as the chains are going to offer a totally different type of device (e.g., dedicated reader, doesn't do much of anything else), what do they have to lose by offering a more powerful one as well? Also, Borders has sold Sony Readers for a few years now. How has that hurt either company's branding efforts?

As far as lock-in is concerned, the Kindle platform is a bigger problem than the iPad. Don't forget that the iPad uses what's quickly becoming the industry standard EPUB format while Amazon insists on continuing to use their proprietary mobi format. And when they all wake up and realize DRM is a bad thing, I'll be able to buy DRM-free EPUB products from them and read on whatever device/platform I choose.

I would have agreed with your point about hardware not mattering in the long run...if it weren't for the long-term success of the iPod. I was a hold-out for several years before buying into the Apple platform and now I'd have a hard time dropping it. Apple simply produces terrific products that a large number of people want/need. Despite the range of competitors out there, Apple still owns the MP3 player market. I think they have the same opportunity to dominate the ereader space and one of the keys to their success will be that their device isn't just a reader.

Joe Wikert

Btw, I should have mentioned... I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but Amazon sells the iPad. And if Amazon feels it's worth selling the iPad while they're also selling their own Kindle, why shouldn't brick-and-mortar stores?

Kevin Garcia

Hi Joe,

I definitely agree that the iPad is the clear front-runner in the early stages of the market. In fact, the other platforms feel like prototypes to me. The lack of actual enhancement reduces them to a gimmicky fad that will be easily replaced.

The question, as I see it, is: do retailers and content providers want Apple, in particular, to be the dominant force in the industry? Amazon is almost a market unto itself, which allowed it to promote the Kindle independently. Apple, on the other hand, is a cultural force that makes its own rules. I'm sure that the major retailers and publishers have major concerns about handing over their influence and power over to an outsider that cares much more about cultural capital than content.

It may be a do or die situation, hence the desperate nature of e-reader promotion that you talked about.

Thanks for the information and insight; I really enjoy this blog.

Francis Hamit

Dear Joe:

As someone who has published e-books since 2004, I am waiting for the dust to settle before committing more time and resources to filling channels which may die. The big cost is formatting and I've found a contractor but there is alos the cost of "covers" which you now need because, well, everyone else has them.

Until I can see a clear path our future is POD.


Francis Hamit
Brass Cannon Books

The comments to this entry are closed.