Barnes & Noble’s decline largely due to underestimating independent eBook publishing

The physical bookstore appears to be going the way of the dodo. Bookstores are closing with regularity in cities all across America, a trend which was most evident in the end of chain bookseller Borders. With the demise of Borders, Barnes & Noble remains the nation's sole remaining mega-bookstore, and its days may be numbered, as well. The company posted a significant net loss of $6 million in the last quarter, despite having gained a net income of $52 million in the same period of 2012, according to The New York Times.

While Barnes & Noble's downfall is undoubtedly due to a wide range of factors, one stands out above all others: the rise of eBooks and the company's inability to effectively leverage this trend. More specifically, Barnes & Noble did not truly grasp the significance of independent eBook creation, according to Blogcritics contributor Erica Verrillo, which allowed Amazon to gain an overwhelming advantage in the digital publishing arena.

EReaders and ePublishers
Barnes & Noble's struggles with digital publishing can be seen in the recent drop in sales of the Nook, the company's signature eReader device. Last quarter, Nook sales fell 26 percent, resulting in $190 million in losses.

This is particularly jarring considering the company's commitment to digital publishing and the Nook. As Verrillo noted, in 2010 Stephen Riggio, then Barnes & Noble's CEO, praised the technology and predicted eBooks would soon account for a large portion of the company's total sales. Furthermore, Verrillo asserted that Riggio was right about the merits of the Nook.

"Anyone who has worked with Nook's .epub files can tell you they are infinitely better than the cumbersome .mobi files used by Amazon's Kindle," the writer claimed.

Yet despite this focus on digital publishing, the company is fairly clearly losing out to Amazon in this area. This raises the question of what went wrong. 

Encouraging independent eBooks
The answer, according to Verrillo, is that Amazon appreciated the inherent potential of independent eBook creation and promotion, whereas Barnes & Noble did not. As Verrillo pointed out, Amazon developed the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program, which lets writers easily publish their eBooks and, critically, give those eBooks away for free, so long as they promise to refrain from selling the work on another site for 90 days.

Two of the most significant advantages of independent eBook publishing for writers are that authors can avoid the time-consuming, difficult-to-enter traditional publishing world and that the author receives a much higher percentage of the proceeds from every sale. One of the biggest downsides, however, is that self-publishers lack the marketing and publicity resources of an established publishing house.

By letting authors give their works away for free, Amazon provided independent writers with a means of effectively generating attention, which can lead to significant sales later on.

By appreciating the importance and nature of independent eBook publishing, Amazon was able to attract far more authors and readers than Barnes & Noble, which has been left behind, struggling to survive in the digital publishing world.


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