21 July 09 | Chad W. Post

Yesterday afternoon, Barnes & Noble sent a strong message to Amazon that it’s not about to give up the ghost, no matter how many Kindle accessory ads show up in the New York subway. As reported at Digital Daily, B&N has launched a 700,000 title ebook store (there are only 300,000 titles available for the Kindle, but more on that in a second) that is compatible with the iPhone, Blackberry, PC/Mac desktop, and the much anticipated Plastic Logic eReader.

So now Amazon has the Kindle, Borders has some sort of deal with Sony, and B&N has Plastic Logic . . . things are about to get a lot more interesting in the world of ebooks. Especially in terms of price points for devices and ebooks . . .

There are a few strange things about this announcement by B&N that jumped out at me. First off is this quote from the President of BN.com:

“Today marks the first phase of our digital strategy, which is rooted in the belief that readers should have access to the books in their digital library from any device, from anywhere, at any time,” said William J. Lynch, President of BN.com. “As America’s #1 bookstore and newsstand, our goal at Barnes & Noble is to build a service that revolves around the customer, enabling them to have access to hundreds of thousands of titles and read on their smartphone, PC, and many other existing and future devices. We want to make eBooks simple, accessible, affordable and convenient for everyone.”

As John Paczkowski pointed out in the aforementioned article, by “any device,” he actually means “any device except the Sony eReader, the Kindle, and any soon to be announced Apple device.” What pisses me off about this “business strategy” (don’t even get me started) is how short-sighted all these companies are being. From what I’ve heard in talking to some of the major publishers, ebook sales make up a miniscule portion of overall revenues. Like 3% small. Now rather than try and create a demand in readers for ebooks by working with a universal format (a la mp3s, which play on tons and tons of devices) and then profiting off of the creation of the best ebook store, or best ereader, everyone’s trying to create their own proprietary format to get you, as a customer, locked into their particular system. The existence of its proprietary format is one of the reasons there’s been so many cranky articles about the Kindle and the fact that you don’t really “own” the ebooks you buy, that, like in the case of Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm (irony well noted), they can just vanish from your device . . . But instead of putting the reader’s desires first, corporate bookseller/publishers once again demonstrate their contempt for their customers and their inability to rationally analyze what’s happened in the recent past to the music (not to mention TV and movie) industry . . .

Secondly, this 700,000 title number is pretty sketchy. From the B&N press release:

More than a half-million public domain books from Google, which can be downloaded for free. Readers can discover and explore this rich treasure trove, including everything from classic works by well-known writers to long-forgotten and obscure titles that are historically much harder to access.

So how many titles are actually for sale on the B&N ebook site? Oh, that’s right—approximately 200,000. Which is less than two-thirds of what Amazon has available for the Kindle. But please, don’t let me stand in the way of your “math” and hype—you’re right, your device is bigger, your site is the “World’s Largest eBookstore,” etc. Unfortunately, after downloading the B&N ereading program, I couldn’t find a single book I wanted to buy . . .

(Of course, I probably shouldn’t post this until after my sales call with B&N tomorrow morning . . . )

Over at ZDNet, there’s a really interesting chart at the bottom of their article on this announcement listing all the parts, players, and possible entrants of the “Device Value Chain,” “Platform,” and “Content Value Chain.” Very interesting . . .


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