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.

Tech wrap: New RIM CEO says no drastic change needed

RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins, who joined RIM in 2007 and previously served as a chief operating officer, said during a conference call that he would hone the current strategy rather than abandon it. “I don’t think that there is some drastic change needed. We are evolving … but this is not a seismic change,” Heins said. RIM’s U.S.-traded shares tumbled as investors wondered whether Heins could reverse the BlackBerry maker’s decline, closing the day down 8.5 percent.

The founder of file-sharing website Megaupload was ordered to be held in custody by a New Zealand court, as he denied charges of Internet piracy and money laundering and said authorities were trying to portray the blackest picture of him. U.S. authorities want to extradite Kim Dotcom, a German national also known as Kim Schmitz, on charges he masterminded a scheme that made more than $175 million in a few short years by copying and distributing music, movies and other copyrighted content without authorization. Megaupload’s lawyer has said the company simply offered online storage.

The Supreme Court ruled that police cannot put a GPS device on a suspect’s car to track his movements without a warrant. The high court ruled that placement of a device on a vehicle and using it to monitor the vehicle’s movements was covered by U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence. “A majority of the court acknowledged that advancing technology, like cellphone tracking, gives the government unprecedented ability to collect, store, and analyze an enormous amount of information about our private lives,” Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union said.

Tech wrap: Nook too costly for Barnes & Noble?

Barnes & Noble cut its Nook sales forecast for this year and shocked investors by saying it was considering a sale of the electronic reader and tablet business, sending its shares down sharply. The bookseller has been banking on the Nook for growth, so news that holiday sales of the basic touchscreen e-reader were disappointing raised investors’ fears that Barnes & Noble was struggling to keep up with Amazon.com’s Kindle.  ”They’re going to have to raise capital for Nook if they want to stay viable,” said Morningstar analyst Pete Wahlstrom.

Michael Woodford, the former CEO of Olympus, is dropping his bid to retake control of the troubled company because of lack of support from Japanese institutional investors, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Woodford will announce his decision to give up a proxy battle with management on Friday, the report said, citing an unidentified aide. Woodford was fired as chief executive in October and blew the whistle on a $1.7 billion accounting scandal at the Japanese maker of medical devices and cameras.

AT&T is on track to finish its wireless network upgrade with faster mobile Web services by the end of 2013, having exceeded its target for 2011 by 4 million people, a top executive said.

Tech wrap: Can Nook tablet take on Kindle Fire?

Let the low-end tablet wars begin. Barnes & Noble unveiled a Nook-branded tablet on Monday, the company’s answer to Amazon.com’s recently announced Kindle Fire. At $249, the 7-inch Nook tablet is a bit pricier than the $199 Fire, but Barnes & Noble is betting that consumers will pay the extra $50 for the device because it offers faster processing speeds and 16 gigabytes of storage space compared to the Amazon tablet’s 8 gigabytes. Both devices hit shelves next week. Barnes & Noble, which operates a chain of 700 U.S. bookstores, also lowered the price on its Nook e-book devices in an effort to take on Amazon’s line of Kindle e-readers, which were recently reduced in price.

Early reaction to the device was varied. One analyst characterized it to Reuters as a “wow” product, while another said it will keep “Barnes & Noble shoppers loyal.” All Things D’s Peter Kafka called Barnes & Noble’s product pitch “a bit muddled” when it came to explaining how people will access content on the device: “Unlike Amazon and its Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble isn’t marketing its tablet with a proprietary cloud service that will get you access to music, movies and TV shows. Instead, the bookseller is leaving that up to other cloud-based services, like Netflix and Pandora. But make no mistake — these are cloud-based services,” he writes. Why then was the company so eager to play up the Nook Tablet’s extra storage capacity if it expects you’ll be streaming most content, not storing it, wonders Kafka.  Engadget takes the new tablet through its paces in a hands-on video.

Google+ expanded its circles to make room for businesses who are looking to reach out to customers on the social network. Called Google+ Pages, the new service will allow corporate brands and businesses to set up a special page within the social network . Google said that 20 businesses, including Toyota, Pepsi and retailer Macy’s, have set up special pages so far, and that any organization will soon be able to join as well. Until now, only individual users have been able to sign up for Google+. Businesses are increasingly using online social services, such as Facebook, to reach new customers and to cement relationships with loyal customers through special offers and promotions.

Tech wrap: New Nook Color on the way?

Barnes & Noble sent out invites on Monday to a Nook-related event coming up on November 7. Most tech watchers expect the company to use the occasion to unveil a new version of its Android-powered Nook Color tablet e-reader, which could sport a better screen and upgraded hardware.

As CNet points out, the most anticipated question will be how much Barnes & Noble decides to charge for the new device. “With the Kindle Fire on sale at $199 (it ships November 15), there’s some pressure on B&N to come close to matching that price, though Amazon is allegedly losing money on each Fire it sells (our sources suggest the Fire currently costs around $220 to build). With that being the case, Barnes & Noble is more likely to come out with a faster, more powerful Nook Color that costs $249, though we wouldn’t be surprised to see it at $299,” writes David Carnoy.

Netflix has added a slew of new TV show episodes to its streaming video catalogue through an expanded licensing deal with ABC Television Group, a division of Disney. In addition to extending licensing for popular ABC shows such as “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy” that it already offers, Netflix added ABC’s “Switched at Birth,” “Alias” and episodes from past season of Disney Channel’s animated series “Kick Buttowski” to its streaming selection. Amazon.com also unveiled a content agreement with Disney on Monday that will let Amazon Prime subscribers stream shows from ABC studios, Disney Channel, ABC Family and Marvel.

Tech wrap: HP TouchPad’s second coming?

In an interview with Reuters, the head of HP’s PC business Todd Bradley gave the throngs of people who lined up outside stores to snap up discontinued and deeply discounted TouchPads hope that the company wouldn’t abandon them, saying the tablet could be resurrected. This, as the TouchPad was on track to become the second-best selling tablet of all time behind Apple’s iPad.

GigaOm’s Ryan Kim says HP’s revelation muddies the waters, making the biggest maker of PCs in the world seem indecisive, which hurts it’s stock price.

There are lessons to take away from HP’s TouchPad firesale, argues Jon Collins of The Register. Chief among them is that there’s a massive pent-up demand for tablets from any manufacturer at the expense low-end PC and netbook sales.

Tech wrap: Liberty Media eyes Nook e-reader

Some see e-readers as the poor cousin to more glamorous tablets, but that may soon be about to change. Billionaire media mogul John Malone, whose Liberty Media owns DirecTV Group and the QVC shopping channel, may be interested in buying the Barnes & Noble chain specifically for its Nook e-reader, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking behind the deal.

The Nook is now the second biggest e-book seller, behind Amazon, which only yesterday announced is now selling more e-books than print books. With Liberty as a backer, Barnes & Noble and the Nook may be well positioned to compete against Amazon and Apple.

Hackers set their sights on Sony – again, this time hacking into the company’s Internet service provider So-Net, stealing virtual points worth $1,225 from account holders. This after Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that Sony was considering re-starting its U.S. based online games service on Tuesday, after shutting it down last month when the company discovered hackers had accessed the accounts of more than 100 million users.

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.