An American Editor

June 24, 2013

Ebooks, Nook, & Barnes & Noble

Long-time readers of An American Editor are probably wondering whatever happened to the articles about ebooks. The answer really is that nothing much has been happening in ebookworld. The novelty of ebooks has worn off and there really hasn’t been such great movement in hardware as to warrant regular posts. In addition, all the problems previously noted about self-published ebooks remain.

I also haven’t done any book reviews — pbook or ebook — in a long time because I haven’t read any exceptionally great or exceptionally poor books in months. Most of the books I have read are worthy of at least 4 stars and approaching 5 stars; none have been worse than 3 stars. Do not misunderstand: The ratio of good-to-bad ebooks hasn’t changed (I’d guess there is 1 good ebook for every 25 poor ebooks in the self-publishing market), I’ve simply gotten better at weeding through the garbage and not wasting any effort on unworthy books.

Alas, the one trend I have noticed, it having become more pronounced, is that the quality of traditionally published ebooks in particular, although this is also true of an increasing number of pbooks, is getting worse. There is clearly a lack of competent, professional proofreading and editing.

The one significant change in the ebook industry has been the question of whether Nook is a dying brand. Not being an industry insider, I have no crystal ball knowledge about what is happening with Nook, except that Barnes & Noble seems to be selling the Nooks at rock-bottom prices.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, a few weeks ago I bought the Nook HD+ tablet on a great sale at my local B&N. It is still on sale at the stores and online. If you are looking for an excellent Android tablet, you should take advantage of this sale. In the few weeks that I have had this 9-inch tablet (the 7-inch HD is also on sale), I have come to prefer this device to any of my other ebook reading devices. It also has the advantage of being a real Android tablet (with the exception that you can only install apps from either Google Play or the Nook App store), so I can readily use it just as I would use any other tablet. I’m even enjoying watching the BBC’s “Sherlock” via Netflix streaming on the HD+.

I wouldn’t worry about whether Nook is a dying brand. The HD tablets are sophisticated enough that they will be usable for several years at least and at the sale price are less expensive than other similar specification Android devices.

But this brings me to B&N itself. In past posts I have suggested that B&N could resurrect itself. I still believe it can; it needs to surgically remove the cancer of exceedingly poor leadership at the very top. I cannot imagine any company making a comeback under the type of leadership B&N currently has.

A long time ago, I suggested that B&N has a significant advantage over Amazon, an advantage it needs to exploit — to-wit, its physical stores. I’m still waiting. I suggested that B&N should turn the stores into Nook centers; that is, a place where Nook users can bring their Nooks for person-to-person help. B&N has taken the first step in that when I bought my HD+ I happened to notice a small sign saying that there are Nook classes available, just ask a bookseller. But no one mentioned it to me when I bought the Nook — nor to any of the other people who were buying Nooks.

This should have been part of a massive ad campaign something like this: “Need Kindle help? Go online or call. Need Nook help? Go online, call, or go to your local B&N store where you can get hands-on Nook help, browse books, have a complimentary coffee, and get a 15% discount on all books, including ebooks, purchased while in the store.” The point is that B&N should be taking advantage of the synergy of the Nook and the physical store. But that appears to be asking for too much creativity from current B&N management.

The question is this: What is the future for B&N if it abandons the Nook? I know that top B&N management thinks the future will be rosier if Nook is spun off or sold or, in a worse case scenario, allowed to die, but that is really just another example of why B&N will likely follow Borders in the absence of management change. Short-sighted thinking seems to be the rule, which is exactly the opposite of Amazon’s management. I have to give Amazon and Jeff Bezos the credit they are due — they think long-term not short-term, which is why Amazon controls the retail book market in the United States.

There are three changes I have called for over the years that need to be made at B&N: (1) change top management, (2) fix customer service, and (3) make Nook and the B&N stores synergistic. It is pretty clear that current management thinks the solution is anything but those three. The idea that if B&N goes private all its troubles will disappear is to be an ostrich. The exact same problems will persist, only the ownership will have changed from public to private.

Does it matter whether and how B&N survives? Yes, on many levels it does matter. The problem is that survival is unlikely as long as management continues to think 19th century instead of 21st century.

Which brings us back to the question of whether you should buy a Nook. The answer is still yes for a lot of reasons, not least of which is the quality of the Nook HD/HD+ tablet. Even if B&N does go under, it won’t be immediate and the tablet can still access nearly any ePub ebook. In addition, as noted earlier, it is an excellent Android tablet that should easily last several years.

5 Comments »

  1. I don’t live in the US, so don’t really have an opinion on B&N or Nook. But what caught my eye is this statement:

    “Alas, the one trend I have noticed, it having become more pronounced, is that the quality of traditionally published ebooks in particular, although this is also true of an increasing number of pbooks, is getting worse. There is clearly a lack of competent, professional proofreading and editing.”

    If the quality of traditionally published pbooks (I like that term – it’s less offensive than Dead Tree Book) is getting worse, then it’s no surprise that the ebooks are also worse – after all, I assume that the ebook is created from the final proof of the pbook. So the editing or proofreading is the problem.

    If there’s a lack of competent proofreading and editing in the traditional publishers, what incentive does that give self-publishers to act professionally and get their books competently edited?

    Like

    Comment by Iola — June 24, 2013 @ 5:10 pm | Reply

    • You asked a great question: “If there’s a lack of competent proofreading and editing in the traditional publishers, what incentive does that give self-publishers to act professionally and get their books competently edited?”

      The problem is fourfold. First, in contrast to the heyday of publishing (the first 60 to 70 years of the 20th century) when the emphasis was on editorial quality, the consolidation of publishers into megapublishers has distanced top management from the product being produced and thus given the bean counters the greatest sway. The result is that the budgets for invisible services, like editing and proofreading, are dramatically reduced in an attempt to increase shareholder return and to have a larger pot available for “blockbuster” books.

      Second, as publishers increasingly rely on “blockbuster” authors to produce the revenues, they cede to these authors greater control over the production of their books. In the 1950s, when Bennett Cerf ran Random House, it was Cerf and crew who made editorial decisions. Today, authors with the sales power of James Patterson makes their own editorial decisions, including whether or not their books will be edited or published as is.

      Third, the question is really a chicken-and-egg question. Are the traditional publishers recognizing that they cannot increase their production costs and thus raise the price of books even higher when their competition, self-publishers, aren’t buying these invisible services and thus selling their books cheaply? Or is it that self-publishers look at the costs they would incur if they hired a professional editor and proofreader and decide they would rather sell their ebook for 99 cents than spend the money, forcing the traditional publishers to rein in their costs? Who should be a model for whom?

      Fourth, and finally, doesn’t much of the fault fall on readers? Some readers complain about poor editing but most don’t recognize poor editing or spelling. It is not unusual for a reader to comment that she doesn’t care about the editing or spelling as long as the story is good. Besides, aren’t readers often willing to sacrifice editing and spelling for a price that is a third or less of what a traditional publisher charges for a book?

      Until such time as readers begin rebelling, a time I do not foresee, this trend will continue.

      Like

      Comment by americaneditor — June 25, 2013 @ 5:09 am | Reply

  2. […] Noble are currently suffering from proposed by Rich Adin, owner of a highly readable blog  “An American Editor” and reposted here with Rich’s permission..  But as he sadly states, it is highly […]

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    Pingback by Barnes and Noble May Be Missing The Ereader Boat | eBookanoid.com — June 26, 2013 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

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    Pingback by Barnes and Noble May Be Missing The Ereader Boat – A Suggestion | Ebooks on Crack — June 27, 2013 @ 12:25 am | Reply

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