B&N confuses me greatly. There are moments when it appears they have a master plan, with a clear strategy and vision, such as the release of the NOOK Simple Touch. Then they completely ignore the international markets, only to hold a “Hey, we’re…here…but not” meeting like they did this week in London.
Techcrunch had some insight into B&N’s bizarre non-event:
In packed room of app makers, Barnes & Noble’s director of developer relations, Claudia Romanini, took the audience through some of the basics of developing apps for the Nook tablet. In attendance, a lot of Android developers. We caught up with a couple to gauge their feedback, and they were a bit perplexed on why B&N held the event in the first place, given how little they are able to offer at the moment in terms of information:
– Major focus around U.S. market, for now, is completely unfriendly to doing business abroad. Consumers currently need to have U.S. credit cards in order to purchase apps. Meanwhile, developers do not need U.S. bank accounts in order to get paid, but they will still be paid by check, in U.S. dollars. And one developer who won a Nook in the raffle after the event told me that he’ll need to pay an import tax if he hopes to get the device eventually. (“They could have brought it over with them today. Why do I have to pay for my prize?” he asked.)
– There are no details on when the tablets will go to its first non-U.S. market, although there will be no Barnes & Noble stores opening here alongside a launch. Specifically, Romanini said: “We’re expanding our digital business, but not our stores.”
Er…this smells like a case of B&N trying to get ahead of the competition. Amazon is already all over the international markets, as is Kobo, and now Kobo has the deep pockets and international reach of parent company Rakuten to give them a boost. Plus the new iPad has launched, with the iPad 2 dropping in price, so the window of opportunity for B&N to squeeze out some marketshare is getting smaller by the moment. This entire event appears to have been a reminder that the NOOK Tablet exists, has a big following, and is worth the headache to develop for it (just don’t try to buy one if you live in London).
I also found the report on B&N’s target demographic to be very interesting. Essentially they’re looking to appeal to women, mainly 25-45 who distrust or don’t fully utilize smartphones. It’s a tight niche, and while it clearly is working for them for now, I think they need to seriously consider whether that’s a long-term viable strategy. Again, the NOOK Tablet is up against the Kindle Fire, which doesn’t exactly have a deep bench of apps but far outclasses the NT as far as developer and app support. Plus with a new iPad (and the iPad 2 starting at only $150 more than the NOOK Tablet) their space in the market is constrained on both ends.
So really, the only concrete-ish item to come out of B&N’s developer meeting is that they’ve sold “millions” of NOOK Tablets, they’re hoping to expand internationally in the future, and they’re not planning on making it very easy to do business outside the USA. I want to see B&N succeed, but it really seems like they don’t have a plan for how to transition from bookstore to electronics giant. Maybe the next time they choose to hold a big developer’s conference they’ll actually have something substantive to say!