If you knew nothing about Barnes & Noble and wandered into their stores, you’d assume the nook is a huge part of their business. After all, they’re promoting it like crazy, with signage everywhere, big bold displays, and what appears to be major corporate backing…but apparently the corporate backing only goes up to a point. And that point stops somewhere short of their chairman, Leonard Riggio.
During an interview with NYMag, Riggio explained he doesn’t like the nook. He prefers physical books and turning pages to eInk, and refuses to use a nook to read. Fair enough if you’re the average bookstore person. But your company is pouring their entire future into ebooks, and you’re not even trying it?
I’m shocked for a few reasons. One, Riggio can claim to be old-fashioned all he wants, but it’s not like ebook readers are limited to the young and tech-savvy. B&N should be praying for a story similar to “100-year-old grandma uses a Kindle” with the nook…and if their so-called “old-fashioned” chairman isn’t even trying it, that’s not exactly a glowing endorsement [Note: I am not saying Riggio is a 100-year-old grandma. In case that wasn’t clear.] Two, it’s their flagship device. At least try it once in a while, or lie and say you use it occasionally. Being totally dismissive implies he’s either out of touch or really, really dislikes it, and neither one reflects well on the company.
Compare that to Amazon, where Jeff Bezos can’t go five minutes without spouting off another Kindle milestone. Both companies put an equal amount into promotion (Amazon puts the Kindle front and center on the main page, which is sort of the digital equivalent of the nook displays in B&N), but you know from hearing him talk how passionate Jeff Bezos is about the Kindle. What we now know from hearing Riggio talk is that the nook is nice, if you like that sort of thing.
It’s not that he should be taking out full-page ads in the NY Times endorsing the nook; it’s that most companies have a little bit more enthusiasm for their products! Now, it’s entirely possible he gave a more detailed pros/cons analysis for the nook and it was cut from the interview, but the impression as it stands is less than stellar. From the interview:
“If this was a Nook,” Riggio said as he flipped through the pages of The Count of Monte Cristo, “I just look at is as, well, here are the pages, and we magically erase the pages and another book appears.” As a business strategy, he was wagering that this convenience would inspire readers to spend more. But personally, Riggio remains unswayed. He doesn’t use his own Nook. “I like to hold the book instead of the device,” he said. “I would rather own multiple books than a single book that carries everything.” For most of his long career, Riggio has been the innovator, the opportunistic instrument of creative destruction. Now, as he nears the final chapter, he is discovering what it means to be old-fashioned.
Ringing endorsement, isn’t it?