From the very beginning, Barnes & Noble has faced an uphill battle with its Nook devices. As with the e-book market, B&N came to the e-reader market late and has been trying to play catch up with Amazon and its various incarnations of the Kindle ever since. That battle has turned into a bleeding hole of debt for B&N where the Nook is concerned and for the last several years there has been open speculation about whether or not the bookseller would continue in the e-reader market. The voices of doubt were silenced, or at least hushed a little, a year or so ago when B&N announced a deal with Samsung to bring out its first new Nook tablets in, well, much too long. But the sales figures spoke volumes and the Nook division continued to lose money and B&N went looking for yet another new CEO to helm them company.
Ronald D. Boire has been tapped to take over the leadership of the company’s retail division come September. Boire has spent the last year as head of Sears Canada. Before that, he spent almost three years as head of Sears in the U. S. He also also worked with Best Buy and Sony Electronics. It is clear B&N his hoping his background with electronics will help rescue the Nook. Part of me hopes they are right because competition is always a good thing and, frankly, someone needs to be pushing Amazon not only to make it better but to keep it honest.
However, Boire is walking into a mire of problems that will be difficult to fix, especially if he follows the pattern of his last two jobs and stays only three years or less. The morass of issues facing B&N isn’t going to be fixed quickly, especially since its corporate structure has shown an unwillingness to change in the past.
Some of the issues plaguing the Nook are no longer really issues as much as bad marks left in the minds of early adopters of e-books and e-readers. When the Nook first came out, people were up in arms when charges for a penny were suddenly appearing on their credit cards. It seemed that if you downloaded a free e-book, Nook’s system still charged you. It was only a penny but still, free is free.
Then there was the issue that you could only download books that came from B&N. Oh, there were very quickly work-arounds but not everyone was techie enough to do it. Then there was the problem when the first Nook tablet came out that a huge portion of its memory was set aside and unusable for apps e-books. It’s e-book store was difficult to navigate around and, for awhile at least, they talked about having to be in-store to download directly to your device. Otherwise, you had to side-load (I’ll admit, I don’t know if that ever actually went into effect. By that time, I was firmly in the Kindle family).
Now, just before Boire takes over, B&N has unveiled an “updated” website that is more than just buggy, especially when it comes to the Nook side of things. According to GoodEReader, this overhaul of the site has been two years in the making. Two years and they still managed to put up a site that was broken. The “Read Instantly” function of Nook for the Web was broken. This basically meant you couldn’t preview an e-book before buying it. But that wasn’t all that was wrong with the new site.
Another glaring error is the fact that any past purchases cannot be read online and the Nook Library does not recognize past purchases as being owned. If you click on any e-book you have bought in the past the only options right now is to archive it or purchase it again. If you try and buy it again there are a series of errors that do not allow you to complete the transaction.
To compound the problem, this broken site meant those using the Nook app on their iPhones and iPads were unable to buy e-books from the retailer. Why? Because B&N stood up to Apple and refused to pay a commission on every sale made through the app — and I don’t blame them. But that means the only way for an iOS user to get a Nook e-book is to buy it through BN.com and then sideload it.
Now, the initial reporting of issues with the site came in last week. So, I just wandered over to BN.com and looked at the Nook best sellers. The site is still wonky, at best. When I clicked on the first entry, Grey, I received after a longish load time, a message that there was no preview of the hard cover and I was looking at the e-book preview — which was only the cover. Now, the problem there was I hadn’t been asking about the hard cover but about the e-book. For the next entry, The Paris Architect – A Novel, I received a “we’re sorry, the page you requested in unavailable” error message. Whisky Beach, by Nora Roberts, was next in line. The first time I clicked the link, it took me back to the Nook homepage. So I went back to the best sellers list and tried again. This time, it took me to the product page and, as of right now, the page is still trying to load the product description more than a minute later. Clicking for a preview takes me to a new window and back to the Nook homepage. Finally, when I get to the fourth entry on the best sellers list, The Girl on the Train, I actually go a preview when I clicked through for one. So, one in four of the books I looked at in the Nook Read Instantly previewer actually worked. Not good, especially when we are talking about the best sellers.
I’m not sure B&N will be able to save the Nook. At this point, the company has lost over a billion dollars because of failures in this particular division. Boire will be the third CEO since 2009. As Goodereader says, Boire “has an impressive resume but an entire digital industry passed him by. He was not actively working in tech when the original iPad came out, or the first generation Kindle. He did not play a role when people gravitated away from visiting websites and a billion dollar app market developed. It remains highly dubious that he can fundamentally understand the core of the Nook business and their competition.” This is a concern I share, especially given the fact that B&N has proven that its corporate culture doesn’t like change. I hope he can help turn the division around but I’m not holding my breath. Even if he does, the retailer has so many issues, I’m not sure that plugging one hole will be enough to save it in the long run.