Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Barnes & Noble Nook for the UK?

Rumours are circulating that the Barnes & Noble Nook eReader is being primed for a launch in the UK, sometime in the New Year.  I haven't mentioned the Nook previously as there didn't appear much hope that we'd see it this side of the Atlantic, mainly because although Barnes & Noble are a big league company in the US it's unlikely in this economic environment they'd try to expand over here.

But the word is that they are looking to partner with a UK company to launch their very well received devices over here.  The field isn't too great - the major booksellers have taken a battering in the UK over the last ten years and the ebook revolution is just about giving it the final pasting.  I've mooted before that the days of the conventional bookseller are numbered, and I personally don't see that number exceeding four thousand.  The independents are disappearing rapidly and with the exception of a few specialists, who might actually carve a longer lasting niche, I suspect for most that number is less than two thousand.  The bigger players, the WH Smith and Waterstones, will have to modify their business models dramatically to stay in the game.  Which is exactly what WH Smith appear to be doing with its alliance with Kobo, which looked like a really smart move by them until Asda, the UK arm of US retailer Wal-Mart, snuck in and undercut them.

So, the rumours go, Waterstones are being courted by Barnes & Noble to front the Nook eReader.  Some sources at Waterstones have denied the alliance but allegedly B&N are hinting aggressively that they are ready to launch over here and it's difficult to think of an alternative partner unless they align with one of the major supermarkets or perhaps Argos, the catalogue warehouse chain.  Or DSG, the owners of PC World and Currys, which has the reach but traditionally doesn't align with any one maker of a product.

Whoever they partner with, it could be a force multiplier for the eReader market.  I've only experienced the Nook products through the medium of Internet reviews and generally they are more consistent than the Amazon Kindle and Kobo product reviews, which tend to oscillate from scathing to drooling - I can't claim to have read all the reviews but I've consistently been impressed by the reports.

So, if this is true, then 2012 could see Amazon, Kobo and B&N slugging it out in the eReader market.  I'm sure Sony aren't going to sit back and allow their market presence to slip away without a fight, but it could be inevitable that they will be marginalised.  Perhaps we'll see Sony hooking up with a retailer with a large distribution footprint in the next few months? In any other market I'd say this represented an unsustainable dilution of the prime products, especially when you factor the incredibly popular if expensive iPad as well, but the market growth projections for ebooks, hence also eReaders, possibly supports this wave of market expansion.

The only downside to all these products, as far as I can see, is the fragmentation of the ebook formats - we may be heading to a Betamax/VHS battle in a year or so, but that would be another blog, I guess!


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