E-Readers: Why the Nook failed; the future of libraries


Barnes & Noble has lost $475 million in the past year as Nook sales significantly declined, while the market of tablets and e-readers continues to expand. These dramatic changes bring to light an important question: Why did Barnes & Noble Nook flounder so desperately while both the Apple iPad and the Amazon Kindle thrive?

Roger Layton, communications manager for the Harold B. Lee Library, said he has noticed a few trends in his experience of working with e-books. He believes that people enjoy the convenience of tablets and phones that can serve many purposes rather than the e-reader that serves a single purpose. As a result, these multipurpose devices will always dominate the market.

Barnes & Noble has lost $475 million as Nook sales have significantly declined in the past year. (Photo courtesy of Elliott Miller)
Barnes & Noble has lost $475 million as Nook sales have significantly declined in the past year. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

On the other hand, Layton recognizes that there will always be a niche market for the single purpose device from people who appreciate the focus of devices like the Nook.

“It is similar to digital photography,” Layton said. “Many mobile devices come with a built-in camera, but some people still purchase dedicated cameras to pursue their interest in taking pictures.”

The small niche market has proven insufficient in giving the specialized e-readers the sales they need. Craig Tracy, supervisor of Cougar Tech at the BYU Bookstore, said Cougar Tech has tried to sell e-readers in the past, but students were not particularly interested. He has found that students generally prefer devices that can multi-task.

“We’ve never been successful with anything besides the iPad,” Tracy said. “It really depends on the content available; if there is a lot of content the device will do a lot better. There are tons of applications made for the iPad and that’s why people like it.”

When there are devices available like the Kindle and iPad that offer a wider range of services, readers do not want a device that will only serve a single purpose. Kiana Choroski, a freshman from Davis, Calif., is like many other people because she owns an iPad and would never use any other e-reader.

The iPad is the only e-reader available for purchase at the BYU Bookstore. (Photo courtesy of Elliott Miller)
The iPad is the only e-reader available for purchase at the BYU Bookstore. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

“I love my iPad,” Choroski said. “Why would I buy something that only does one thing, when I could buy an iPad that will do a whole bunch of different things for me?”

Though the original Kindle does not provide the vast number of applications that the iPad can offer, the library available for the Kindle is much larger and more cost-effective than that of the Nook because the Kindle is open to all of Amazon. Amazon claims to have more than one million books and newspapers available for Kindle users, and that number constantly rises as Amazon gains licenses to sell works by different authors.

Other Kindle applications allow readers to get involved. Kindle Worlds allows readers to post their own fan fiction.

Philip Patrick, director of business development and publisher of Kindle Worlds, said in a news release, “Since the launch of Kindle Worlds a month ago, we’ve published over 120 stories and the customer response has been overwhelmingly positive. To include the work of an American literary icon in Kindle Worlds is a thrill for us and a golden opportunity for Vonnegut fans everywhere.”

Amazon and Apple are both well-established, successful companies that have built loyalty to their brands. By giving the customers what they want, both companies have e-readers that are flourishing. Barnes & Noble could not provide what the readers wanted, resulting in the failure of the Nook.

The director and CEO of Barnes & Noble, William Lynch, announced in June that they would be selling Nook to an unnamed third party. The bookstore plans to focus on selling print books instead, because changes Barnes & Noble has made since releasing the Nook have not been positive for the company.

“We are taking big steps to reduce the losses in the Nook segment, as we move to a partner-centric model in tablets and reduce overall costs,” Lynch said in a statement to the media before his resignation in July.


Kindle's and iPad's can offer a wider range of services for readers that want a multifunctional device. (Photo by Elliott Miller)
Kindle’s and iPad’s can offer a wider range of services for readers that want a multifunctional device. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

Though the Nook may not have much of a future, there is a large future ahead for e-books, especially in libraries.

Libraries are slowly increasing their digital presence. E-readers have gotten off a slow start because many libraries do not have a great amount of digital content. Additionally, many people are not aware of their options in renting e-content. A survey done by the American Library Association showed that over 75 percent of libraries in the country are currently lending out e-books to their patrons, and that number is expected to rise in the future.

A survey done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that only 31 percent of citizens were aware that libraries can rent e-books in 2012.

BYU students and faculty are also feeling the effects of the digital shift. Roger Layton of the Harold B. Lee Library said a portion of the library has already switched to digital content, while some areas of the library are less likely to make the switch as quickly as others.

“The shift to an electronic library varies by discipline,” Layton said. “As you might expect patrons researching computer science already use our electronic resources, while patrons looking for literature continue to use our large collection of print materials.”

Layton also said the library is very interested in e-readers. The library staff has looked into checking e-readers out to patrons, but has found difficulty in getting the licensing to do so. The library does, however, check out e-books to patrons and will continue to make changes as they become plausible.

As the market of e-readers and e-books continues to grow, BYU students may find their study and work habits changing drastically.

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