Amazon is making a play to be the second screen with their new Kindles, which include a Chromecast-like control of content on your Samsung or Playstation 3 or 4, as well as offline viewing of Prime Instant movies and videos.
Second Screen is Amazon’s big push to get people to use their Fires in front of their TVs. The feature “flings” content to your set, by way of your PlayStation 3 / 4 or Samsung smart TV. More content partners are coming, as well. When we asked specifically about Chromecast, we just got a “stay tuned,” however. The content itself isn’t actually streamed from the tablet. Instead, the set is pulling it down from the cloud, but you can still use your Fire to control it. Once the content is flung, you’ll get contextual information by way of X-Ray, which now also features the names of songs that are playing (which, naturally, you can then purchase through Amazon), character names and trivia from Amazon’s IMDb service. Speaking of X-Ray, 3.0 brings X-Ray Music, which features lyrics licensed (not crowdsourced, mind) by Amazon. You’ll be able to see them whether or not you’re online. (via Amazon’s Fire OS 3.0 ‘Mojito’ arrives just in time for those new tablets)
No reassuring words about support for the Chromecast device, or a Kindle equivalent, just a ‘stay tuned’. Grrr.
Barnes & Noble has risked a lot on Nook, and it’s not panning out. In fact, it’s hard to see how they can stem the fall of the retail giant.
Barnes & Noble Faces Steep Challenge as Holiday Nook Sales Decline - Leslie Kaufman
The results, covering a period that ended Dec. 29, are a sobering development for the nation’s largest bookstore chain. The declines occurred during what is supposed to be peak buying season. And the Nook unit’s sagging fortunes came despite a 13 percent increase in sales of digital content, suggesting that it is the tepid demand for Nook devices that is dragging down the unit’s performance.
Barnes & Noble has invested heavily in developing a tablet that can compete with offerings from media giants like Google, Apple and Amazon.com. Last April, in announcing a $300 million investment in Nook by Microsoft, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s chief executive, William J. Lynch, said the company wanted “to solidify our position as a leader in the exploding market for digital content in the consumer and education segments.”
A few months after that, the bookseller began breaking out the financial results of the Nook division, In October it completed its strategic partnership with Microsoft by creating Nook Media, a subsidiary and a signal that it was ready to ride its digital business into the future.
But while Barnes & Noble’s most recent Nooks have won critical praise, they have failed to gain significant traction with consumers.
Other companies do not break out sales of their digital tablets, but Amazonhas been saying sales of its Kindle Fire were strong. Analysts say Apple’s iPads also appear to be doing well.
“The problem is not whether or not the Nook is good,” said James L. McQuivey, a media analyst for Forrester Research. “What matters is whether you are locked into a Kindle library or an iTunes library or a Nook library. In the end, who holds the content that you value?”
For an increasing number of consumers, he said, the answer is not Barnes & Noble.
Though the company’s stock was down only slightly — falling 2 percent to $14.22 — the reaction in the financial world was unsparing. Analysts stopped short of saying that this was a do-or-die moment for the Nook Media division, but they acknowledged that options for a strong digital future were narrowing.
In a note to clients, S&P Capital IQ said, “We think this portends greater market share losses for the Nook over the medium term” and downgraded its recommendation on Barnes & Noble stock from hold to sell. Barclays said in a note that the Nook’s precipitous decline was “quite concerning” and “below even our modest expectations.”
Last month, Barnes & Noble announced that Pearson, the British education and publishing conglomerate, was taking a 5 percent stake in Nook for $89.5 million. Analysts said that cash investment was welcome and the partnership with Pearson, a major publisher of educational textbooks, might herald a strategy to move toward dominating an education niche market. Still, that would be a significantly smaller business.
My bet: Barnes & Noble will have to bail, even if Microsoft decides to increase its investment in the technology. (I doubt that Microsoft is ready to invest more heavily in a company building on Android technology, at least not until Ballmer leaves, and they bring in a new CEO who gives up on Windows.)
The Nook HD is based on the Android Ice Cream Sandwich platform and has a roughly equivalent hardware and software platform as the Kindle Fire HD. It’s slightly cheaper — like $30 — but Kindle has first mover advantage and huge capital resources. And any comparison to an iPad makes Nook look like something from a few years ago.
Maybe Texas Instruments — who make the chipset in Nooks — wants to get back into retail products? Not likely. However, Intel has been making motions to shake up their business model with the collapse of the netbook market, and the decline of PC/Windows sales, and with a market cap of over $100B they might have the money to take a run. But would they have to buy Barnes & Noble to do so? I wouldn’t buy that side of things.
Google’s another player who might want to play with Nook, but not Barnes & Noble, per se. But it would be interesting if Google decided to go retail with their own gear, as well as do something different in bookstore retail. Imagine, for example, if bookstores were reconfigured to be like gigantic Redbox machines, where you could type in any of millions of books, ten thousand of which are actually in the machine, and are delivered on the spot into your hands. All others delivered next day to your home. One percent of the staff costs. But I have no reason to believe Google is tending in this direction.
A 2013 prediction: Barnes & Noble with sell, spin out or shut down the Nook business. Pearson might be a fallback, with Nook becoming a niche educational tool.
Amazon is entering the smartphone market, which is better called ‘palmtop computer market’. No work on the operating system, but the ‘kindle phone’ might follow the pattern of the Kindle: an open source version of Android mobile OS, redesigned to support the kindle phone.
But if they go that route, it’s hard to see how they’d stand out from the mazillion other android mobiles out there.
Nobody Seems to Understand What Jeff Bezos is Doing. Does He? - Farhad Manjoo via PandoDaily
Jeff Bezos once famously declared that, in the service of innovation and its long-term success, Amazon is “willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.” He was being a bit modest there; Amazon is not merely “willing” to be misunderstood, it often tries to actively sow widespread misunderstanding. This works it its advantage; if competitors don’t know what Amazon is up to, if they can’t even figure out where and how it aims to make money, they’ll have a harder time beating it.
But all this misunderstanding can’t be an unalloyed good. Amazon is so opaque, with so many mysterious businesses and revenue streams, that you’ve got to wonder whether the people who work there even understand what it’s up to. In business, simplicity often wins. Selling me a device to get me to buy a membership in order to get a book for free. Is Bezos crazy like a fox? Or is he just plain crazy? We have no idea.
But Bezos is involved in a land grab: he wants people to use Kindle and buy books from Amazon long enough to become a default standard. If he has to extract value from the publishers and authors of books to do so, he will.
Bezos is looking over his should at Apple (and more distantly at Google) who are developing the most dominant mobile devices on the planet, and he knows it is all converging. People — given their druthers — would rather have a single mobile device to do everything: read books, surf the web, write email, blog, social network (yes, I am using that as a verb).
So the only question is, why doesn’t he put a phone on the Kindle? It’s already a (bad) browsing device with an embedded whispernet data connection, so perhaps he is planning to give away phone service to Amazon Prime subscribers, too.
Microsoft settles some patent disputes with Barnes & Noble’s Nook division by investing $300M into the company. The market cheers. Am I missing something?
Microsoft’s Nook Deal, Aiming at Amazon, Sets Up Battle in E-Books - Michael De La Merced and Julie Bosman via NYTimes.com
Microsoft agreed to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Barnes & Noble’s Nook division on Monday, giving the bookstore chain stronger footing in the hotly contested electronic book market and creating an alliance that could intensify the fight over the future of digital reading.
The deal, which gives Microsoft a 17.6 percent stake, values the Nook unit at $1.7 billion — roughly double Barnes & Noble’s entire market value as of last Friday — and bolsters the bookseller’s efforts to make its digital business the linchpin of its future growth.
The announcement was the latest surprise in an unpredictable and rapidly shifting e-book market, which is crowded with technology giants trying to chip away at Amazon.com’s dominance. Amazon once had close to 90 percent of the e-book market, but since then, a handful of players, including Apple, Google and now Microsoft, have edged in.
So, B & N is a bookseller, with hundreds of stores. Remember when Borders went bankrupt? And Tower Records? The days of blazing a new trail in retail by undifferentiated sales are done.
Stowe Boyd via stoweboyd.com
Successful retail in the US is falling into two categories: companies selling their own products, like Apple, and focused specialty providers, like Trader Joe’s and Uniqlo. Otherwise: a wasteland. And soon we will be dismantling all the big box stores.
So, this is a bail out. B & N needs big cash to compete against Kindle, because Amazon is underpricing the device to hold onto the market in the face of growing market penetration of iPad and iPhone as better mobile reading devices. Microsoft, who completely missed the ereader market and who is fighting Apple and Google in the smart device marketplace, hope that a strategic partnership with B & N around the Nook can help, but how?
Unmentioned is the idea that some soon-to-market version of the Nook will be a Windows 8 device, instead of running Nook’s proprietary OS. And a spin-out of the Nook division into a new company, called Nook, with even more cash from Microsoft. Otherwise the whole thing makes no sense.
First time I have followed a link from Twitter to a Kindle note.
via @cubicgarden (thanks for the kind words, Ian.)
Amazon to launch library lending for Kindle in 11,000 US library systems.
Like Steven Pinker, Steven Johnson makes short work of most of Nic Carr’s hand-wringing about the Web ruining our minds, and by extension, Western civilization:
Mr. Carr spends a great deal of his book’s opening section convincing us that new forms of media alter the way the brain works, which I suspect most of his readers have long ago accepted as an obvious truth. The question is not whether our brains are being changed. (Of course new experiences change your brain — that’s what experience is, on some basic level.) The question is whether the rewards of the change are worth the liabilities.
The problem with Mr. Carr’s model is its unquestioned reverence for the slow contemplation of deep reading. For society to advance as it has since Gutenberg, he argues, we need the quiet, solitary space of the book. Yet many great ideas that have advanced culture over the past centuries have emerged from a more connective space, in the collision of different worldviews and sensibilities, different metaphors and fields of expertise. (Gutenberg himself borrowed his printing press from the screw presses of Rhineland vintners, as Mr. Carr notes.)
It’s no accident that most of the great scientific and technological innovation over the last millennium has taken place in crowded, distracting urban centers. The printed page itself encouraged those manifold connections, by allowing ideas to be stored and shared and circulated more efficiently. One can make the case that the Enlightenment depended more on the exchange of ideas than it did on solitary, deep-focus reading.
Quiet contemplation has led to its fair share of important thoughts. But it cannot be denied that good ideas also emerge in networks.
Yes, we are a little less focused, thanks to the electric stimulus of the screen. Yes, we are reading slightly fewer long-form narratives and arguments than we did 50 years ago, though the Kindle and the iPad may well change that. Those are costs, to be sure. But what of the other side of the ledger? We are reading more text, writing far more often, than we were in the heyday of television.
And the speed with which we can follow the trail of an idea, or discover new perspectives on a problem, has increased by several orders of magnitude. We are marginally less focused, and exponentially more connected. That’s a bargain all of us should be happy to make.
Johnson also touches on the new Kindle ‘popular highlights’ feature — where Amazon aggregates highlights from other readers, to let you know which passages are more popular — but doesn’t mention the inherent creepiness of Amazon watching our reading activities. It appears that turning this feature off requires disabling backups of all annotations, which seems like a Facebook-like coercive agreement.
Verlyn Klinkenborg makes some astute observations about his use of iPad and Kindle as a reader of books, in particular the role that books play in social intercourse and how this is diminished because of the restrictions that digital book tools place upon us:
The entire impulse behind Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks assumes that you cannot read a book unless you own it first — and only you can read it unless you want to pass on your device. That goes against the social value of reading, the collective knowledge and collaborative discourse that comes from access to shared libraries. That is not a good thing for readers, authors, publishers or our culture.
Removing the social affordance of loaning someone a book is perhaps the worst crime perpetuated by the new world order of digital content. The communitarian aspect of shared books in libraries is similarly damaged.
Books should be social. Our personal property should be ours to loan to friends.
Imagine if Sears mde it impossible for me to loan my chain saw, or if fingerprint recognition on my VW made it impossible for a neighbor to borrow it?
But, in the name of countering ‘piracy’, we can’t loan The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress to a friend. And our society is lessened because of that.