On Seeking Alpha, analyst William Kirkman has a simple message for Barnes & Noble’s new CEO: By hook or by crook, get rid of the Nook.
The article is brief, because Kirkman’s argument really is simple. Print books are doing well for B&N, while the Nook isn’t. The most they can really say for the Nook is that it’s losing less money now—but since the Nook’s loss is directly proportional to its sales, that just means it’s selling fewer ebooks. Dump it, Kirkman says—along with CDs and DVDs, which have been supplanted by digital streaming. Barnes & Noble could use the space it reclaims to expand its children’s books, toys, and games sections, focusing on education to snag the attention of millennials who are now breeding.
Kirkman doesn’t suggest losing the Nook altogether—Barnes & Noble could keep the phone and tablet app, given how many people have those devices from elsewhere. But a phone and tablet app won’t take up space in stores that could be better used for other things, and won’t place Barnes & Noble under a contractual obligation to sell a certain number of tablets per year.
I’m starting to suspect that Kirkman has a good point. Why continue trying to compete in a declining e-ink reader market that Amazon already owns? Why cede valuable store space to (and set itself up to pay a sales penalty to) Samsung in order to slap the Nook brand name and apps on tablets that consumers could get more cheaply from other sources, and still use the Nook application on if they so desire? As I noted a few months ago, Barnes & Noble’s college stores have already gone that way. It only remains for the rest of the chain to follow.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Amazon’s starting to move directly into Barnes & Noble’s primary arena, opening up physical bookstores. It’s just opening a few right now, and Amazon will probably never open bookstores outside the same urban areas where it offers instant delivery and other such services—but those urban areas are where most of the people are, and could spell trouble for Barnes & Noble down the road. It would probably be a good idea for Barnes & Noble to focus on slimming down and toughening up, getting ready for the fight to come.
Current customers of B&N might find it a little sad to lose the physical Nook device, but they might find it sadder to lose the stores themselves. Barnes & Noble has spent ten years trying to compete with Amazon on its home turf, and losing. Seems like it might just be a good idea for Barnes & Noble to start paying more attention to its own home turf instead.
The question is, will it? Given that the store recently fired its old CEO, it doesn’t seem averse to making big changes on the whole. It remains to be seen whether it will finally get rid of the Nook, too.