The Nook: A smart bricks-&-mortar digital strategy

By Steve Outing

A new, and very large, Barnes & Noble bookstore opened here in Boulder, Colorado, recently, replacing a smaller store half a block away. I’ve wondered since construction started how the giant bookstore chain could justify a larger store when more and more we’ll be seeing people buying and reading books on digital tablets like Amazon’s Kindle. Wouldn’t smaller bookstores be in our future, not bigger ones?

Nook

With the announcement of B&N’s Nook e-reader device to compete with the Kindle, now I understand. The Nook digital strategy supports the brick-and-mortar business — the physical stores — of B&N.

I think the Nook business model is freaking brilliant! Here’s what it looks like:

  • The Nook is priced about the same as a Kindle, but advances e-reader technology a bit. It features an E-Ink screen (no color) for reading, but also has a color navigation screen below the reading area.
  • It adds a lend-a-book feature; it’s limited, but a great idea — and Amazon is sure to follow with something similar.
  • You can preview and buy books anywhere you have a AT&T 3G signal or a wi-fi connection.
  • And the best part: B&N says it “soon” will allow Nook owners to take their devices into any B&N physical store and read any e-book for free while in the store using the free wi-fi there!

I’m in awe of whoever thought up that last item. It’s a brilliant strategy to get more people into B&N bookstores. Nook owners will come in to read more than just the samples available to them outside the stores’ wi-fi range. They’ll buy coffee and perhaps other physical merchandise. They’ll read maybe a few chapters into a new book while lounging in a comfy chair in the store, then probably decide to buy the full e-book to finish at home later.

Sure, there might be a few freeloaders who spend time inside the stores reading entire books for free on their Nooks without actually buying the e-books. But so what?! I suspect that the increased coffee shop sales and the number of people who do buy the full e-books will far outweigh the freeloading. And the physical stores will be more crowded, sending the social signal the B&N stores are the place to be.

I had expected bookstores to eventually die off in larger numbers, and for chains like B&N to have fewer stores in the future. But this Nook strategy, as I see it, ensures a bright future for its brick-and-mortar stores. It gives the Nook a big advantage over the Kindle, since Amazon doesn’t have physical stores.

As for independent bookstores, if e-readers like the Nook, Kindle, et al truly take off, I’m not sure how they’ll stay healthy over the long run. But at least they probably have a longer lifespan than printed newspapers; I sense more people willing to say goodbye to the printed newspaper than the comfy printed book.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!