MediaFile

By Nook or by crook

Barnes & Noble, the venerable book merchant whose history spans three centuries, is in the midst of a strategic identity crisis: how to admit defeat on its Nook platform while turning its last-bookstore-standing status into a de facto monopoly. Barnes & Noble did not spark the e-book revolution – now accounting for 22 percent of all book sales – nor has it proven particularly good at evolving it. So now it’s back to basics, which is to say, back to books.

The precise fiscal health of the company’s Nook Division ‑ e-readers and e-books ‑ is not public knowledge. But the company’s most recent results revealed that its total losses had increased from the previous year. This, as you might surmise, is not the desired trajectory for a business unit that Microsoft asserted was worth $1.7 billion a mere 10 months ago (when Microsoft invested $300 million for a 17.6 percent stake). Only three months ago, Pearson reaffirmed that estimate when it took a 5 percent stake for $89.5 million.

Now the New York Times reports that a person familiar with the company’s strategy says disappointing holiday sales in particular “caused executives to realize the company must move away from its program to engineer and build its own devices and focus more on licensing its content to other device makers.”

In other words, not quite four years after it released its first Nook e-reader, B&N is prepared to close the books on hardware.

To wit: The company’s chairman, Leonard S. Riggio, is bidding to buy all 689 Barnes & Noble bookstores, effectively separating the fate of old media from that of the e-book division, which was predicated on the ill-fated strategy of pushing e-reading devices as well as reading material.

The bearable lightness of tab-lites

As the old saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But fixing something seems to be what Amazon and Barnes & Noble are doing with new tablets which burnish their stable of e-readers beyond e-ink and into an entirely new arena still dominated by the iPad.

In recent weeks we saw the unveiling of Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet, a faster/lighter/smarter version of the discounted, year-old Nook Color. With the high-end becoming even higher it’s now possible to pay as little as $80 for Amazon’s entry-level Kindle e-reader and as much as $250 for a Nook Tablet, with plenty of other options in between.

In other words, e-readers have become so widely accepted that there is room for flavors and price points to be all over the map, just like there are a multitude of iPods when there was once only one.

Tech wrap: Retailers’ wake-up call

Shoppers pay for merchandise at the Macy's department store in New York October 8, 2009. REUTERS/Mike SegarRetailers risk losing the majority of mobile device users unless they make mobile shopping easier and more engaging, writes Jessica Woh. While 89.7 percent of Americans aged 18 to 64 have mobile phones, only 49.1 percent use their phones to shop, according to marketing service Arc Worldwide. Consumers who use mobile phones to shop are able to compare prices on the go and are seen as less likely to make impulse buy, Woh adds.

Apple’s iPad 2 went on sale in 25 countries outside of the United States. But if you’re traveling abroad and price is your main consideration, you’ll want to wait until you get home to buy one. In the U.S., you’ll pay $499 for the base model– with 16 gigabytes of storage and Wi-Fi only connectivity — while the same model in Denmark will set you back the equivalent of $702.

What the RIM PlayBook’s ability to run Android apps really means is akin to a Mac running Windows via a virtual machine, writes Business Insider’s Dan Frommer. The upcoming PlayBook tablet will only support apps for the Android 2.3 operating system and not 3.0, which was designed for tablets. RIM made the announcement so “it will able to say that the PlayBook can technically support tens of thousands of Android apps”, Frommer added.