Commentary

Liberty Takes A Shine To The Nook

E-commerce Times' headline almost says it best: "Nook Lust Drives Liberty Media to Court Barnes & Noble." The tabloid copy editor in us, however, wants to rewrite that to "Liberty Looks for a Little Nookie." In any event, it appears that Barnes & Nobles e-book reader is the lower-case apple of Liberty chairman John Malone's eye. The company offered $17 per share last week for a 70% stake in the company, making the potential deal worth more than $1 billion.

E-commerce Times' Rachelle Dragani writes that Liberty could make the Nook, which currently trails Amazon's Kindle in e-reader sales, a bigger player in the digital market. "The company may even be interested in taking it further by adding applications and other features," she says, pointing out that Nook Color can be made to run Google's Android, "though its abilities are relatively limited" at present.

Malone and CEO Greg Maffei, in fact, told investors yesterday that the "potential for the Nook platform to become the e-book application of choice for consumers on all tablet devices built on Google Inc.'s Android operating system helped motivate the company's bid for the ailing bookstore chain," Jessica E. Vascellaro and Nat Worden report in the Wall Street Journal.

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For the fourth quarter of 2010, Amazon's Kindle held 41% of the global e-reader maker, followed by Pandigital, the Nook and, in fourth place, Sony, according to Stella Louise in Technorati. But Malone said yesterday that Amazon's lead "could be hampered by the publishing industry's interest in not allowing one retailer to become too powerful," and that stands to benefit Barnes & Noble, which is expected to introduce a new version of the Nook today.

The New York Times' Jeremy Peters reported Sunday that women, in particular, have been attracted to the simplicity and color capabilities of the Nook and that publishers of titles such as US Weekly, Shape, Women's Health and Every Day with Rachael Ray have been the beneficiaries.

Peters reports that the iPad and other tablets, with all their apps and additional capabilities such as hi-res cameras, are men's toys while the Nook Color and other e-readers appeal more to women, who buy more books by a ration of 3 to 1 and "prefer their electronic reading devices to be simpler, something they can read on."

Forrester Research says 56% of tablet owners are male and 55% of e-reader owners are female.

"I think Barnes & Noble has been very smart about creating a whole brand and a campaign that's really targeted at their core mass audience which overlaps nicely with our audience," Liz Schimel, evp for digital media for Meredith, tells Peters.

Michael Wolff's "Why tablet publishing doesn't synch up" piece in Adweek this week is mostly a jeremiad against Rupert Murdoch's stillborn tablet daily, The Daily. But he makes two broader points in the process: "There's a loud, jarring, jumpy, desperate, look-at-me sense of tablet publishing -- it tries too hard. It's not just that tablet design invites people to look over your shoulder and enter your space -- but it makes the reader self-conscious too. So much design, so little function. So much brand, so little purpose. Vulgar."

Despite the glitter that's not really gold, or perhaps because of it, he writes: "Everybody who makes his or her living in the digital world is skeptical if not utterly bemused about tablet publishing (or republishing); everybody from the print world, on the other hand, is charging off the cliff."

One gets the feeling, however, that newspaper and magazine publishers soon will figure out how to make money in the tablet market because that's where its readers are going to be. As skeptical as some book publishers might have been about the e-reader market, and some old-school, I-like-to-hear-the-crack-of-the-spine remain today, Amazon announced last week that since April 1, it has sold 105 e-books for every 100 printed books.

We'd be remiss if we didn't report, however, that Liberty's Malone also expressed confidence in the durability of B&N's bricks-and-mortar operation.

"I've been a Barnes & Noble customer myself for many, many years," he said. "The stores will shift around, but there will be a physical presence for a long, long time to come, and it will be a profitable presence."

2 comments about "Liberty Takes A Shine To The Nook ".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 24, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.

    Please knock off the m in the them above. TQ

  2. Douglas Keeney from LD Keeney & Company, LLC, May 24, 2011 at 2:11 p.m.

    Its not about iPads or convergence. This is a classic John Malone play -- to be a dominate gatekeeper in the distribution of digital content. He built the world's largest cable system in a fragmented industry that today still has some 5,000 plus operators in the USA alone. By owning Nook, he has in effect just became the world's third largest cable TV system...for books, and at a pittance. I like John. He was on top of digital TV ("500 TV channels"), he missed digital music, but he's not about to miss digital books -- and eReaders are the choke point for digital books. Brilliant.

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