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The B&N fallacy (baldurbjarnason.com)
26 points by mikecane 1691 days ago | hide | past | web | 38 comments | favorite



"Anybody who thinks that a 300–400 dpi 4–5 inch smartphone isn’t a first class reading device hasn’t laid their hands on one."

I have an iPhone with Retina display.

I still read on my eInk Kindle.


Same here. High-resolution tablets are great for reading comics and web pages (and for reading code in Vim!), but for real long-form reading, e-ink is unbeatable.

I have a Kindle Paperwhite 3G for this purpose that always travels with me. I even get my Instapaper articles on it: http://david-smith.org/blog/2012/10/11/instapaper-on-the-kin...


I've got a Kobo e-ink device, an iPad 1, a Nexus 7, a Nexus 4, and a Nexus Galaxy.

The best device for reading novels IMO is the Nexus Galaxy. Most of my reading is done in bed, lying down, and for that the OLED screen and one-handedness of the small device wins by far. OLED is a lot better than LCD in the dark because there's no backlight glow.

In bright light the eInk is obviously a better screen, but I still believe that a 4.5" screen is a better size for reading novels than a 6" one.


One advantage of a dedicated e-ink device is the lack of distraction. I go to bed with my iPad and end up checking email, browsing the web, playing a game. I go to bed with my kindle, and I actually get some reading done. The Paperwhite also works great in the dark.


All the Androids I've bought have been OLED for exactly this reason.


Yeah, that line made no sense. If my smartphone is a "first class reading device" and my 3rd gen Kindle is a better reading device, then what class is the Kindle in?


If your 3rd gen Kindle is a first class reading device then what class is a paperback/hardback book in?


I wouldn't call a book a 'device'

Delivery mechanism? Sure. Device? Eh.


Good point


I'm the opposite. I have two Kindles (eInk and Fire) and I always read on my smartphone. I mostly read in bed before sleeping so having a back-lit screen (black background, green text) allows me to read in the dark and not bother my wife. It is also very comfortable to hold in one hand and turn pages with the flick of my thumb. If I had time to read during the day I would definitely choose my eInk Kindle though.


I'm a longtime iPhone user/fan, but I'd have to say that it's actually the worst hi-res phone for long form reading. Its relatively narrow screen is great for one-handed usability, but not ideal for extended reading. And 4" is on the low end for what you'd want in a reader.


Not sure I would have called it "first class", but I've read several books on my iPhone and have no complaints. Unlike a tablet, I also have my iPhone with me pretty much constantly, so I can read while microwaving lunch or standing in line at the store.


I still enjoy reading on my Palm Z22. I'm probably an outlier though.


Yeah I bought and read tons of books on my Palm OS devices. I didn't bother downloading any of them from Peanut Press.


I got most of mine through Project Gutenberg.


I stopped reading when the author wrote:

    > Anybody who thinks that a 300–400 dpi 4–5 inch
    > smartphone isn’t a first class reading device
    > hasn’t laid their hands on one.
The author's inability to understand how the experience of reading on paper, e-ink, and a smartphone differ automatically nullifies any analysis he might have had.


Well the author doesn't understand a lot; he wanted to talk about a quote but it doesn't help when you aren't right on the technology. The suggestion that B&N needs to focus on building a better a ebook reader and should license someone else's is downright strange. No one buys ebooks because the quality of the application on their smartphone isn't very good, buy them because of the content network behind them. Additionally, the author doesn't understand an ODM can't license what you have built to someone else. One of the advantages that Kindle and Nook have over other tables is their builtin content distribution network. That is the reason they can offer the tablet at all at the prices they do.


> The suggestion that B&N needs to focus on building a better a ebook reader ... is downright strange.

Most people misread the article. That point was something he said others have said, AND IS WRONG.

Please read the sentence AFTER those bullet points:

Those are all good but I’d argue that doing this wouldn’t solve B&N’s problem in the long term.

His real bullet points are later.


Most people misread the article.

If "most people" misread something, the problem is very likely in the article.


Yes, those bullet points were quite poorly introduced.


I sent my Nexus 7 back because the screen made my eyes seriously hurt. That was on mid brightness. Might have been the LED backlight flickering due to PWM or something along those lines, I don't know. E-ink seems like the way to go for now.


I can't stand trying to read books on my iPhone. I'm not even really wild about reading on my Nook. The Kindle app on my iPad Retina has been the best eReader I've had so far.


I don't see any market evidence to support these statements. The Kindle, Nook, and ereaders in general have sold like crazy. Many people can and will read on smartphones/tablets, but almost nobody prefers long-form reading on a backlit device to an ereader (that's excluding comics and textbooks).

As Amazon continues to push the price frontier lower and lower, the ereader will become practically an impulse buy. One can already purchase an Amazon Kindle, the top name in the business, for $50-70. That's 1/3 the price of the cheapest decent tablet.

People make comparisons to the iPod, how it was the best dedicated music player before it, too, was cannibalized by the smartphone. And the same goes for the low-end point and shoot. However the ereader is different in that it is based entirely upon a technology (eink) which has made nearly zero appearances in other devices. Until there is a tablet that can switch to eink mode, there will always be a market for dedicated readers.

As for Barnes and Noble, it's never easy to compete with Amazon and as far as I'm concerned that's all there is to it.


"Many people can and will read on smartphones/tablets, but almost nobody prefers long-form reading on a backlit device to an ereader (that's excluding comics and textbooks)."

I agree that e-ink is probably superior for reading but it's going to get harder and harder to find customers who only want to read on their devices.

"As Amazon continues to push the price frontier lower and lower, the ereader will become practically an impulse buy. One can already purchase an Amazon Kindle, the top name in the business, for $50-70. That's 1/3 the price of the cheapest decent tablet."

True but the price point of other devices will also become impulse buys so ereaders will still be competing with tablets etc.

"People make comparisons to the iPod, how it was the best dedicated music player before it, too, was cannibalized by the smartphone. And the same goes for the low-end point and shoot. However the ereader is different in that it is based entirely upon a technology (eink) which has made nearly zero appearances in other devices."

Right, iPod was based on a different technology (digital media) and the point and shoot was based on a different technology (digital image capture). Smartphones/tablets added both and now those markets are diminishing. How does this make ereaders different?


Kindle, Nook, and ereaders in general have sold like crazy.

E Ink (the company that makes the screens) posted losses in every category except Q4 last year, not coincidentally the first full year that tablets above 200 dpi have been on the market. Amazon essentially ordered nothing from them in the first quarter. And this came right after Amazon slashed the price of the cheapest Kindle to well below $100.


  > Changing that would require firing everybody who 
  > currently works on the Nook and building a new, 
  > isolated and insulated, business unit elsewhere, 
  > preferably on the other side of the continent, 
  > and treat it like a well-funded startup.
Isn't that exactly what B&N did when they created the original Nook? I can't find a link, but I'm pretty sure that they literally set up shop in California and designed the thing like a startup.


You are correct


The author structured his article as a rant and it shows, so I won't respond to every point. The central premise of his post is that B&N is in an innovators dilemma situation and will find it impossible to build ereaders. Then the author suggests it should build a reading app instead and just plow all its resources into that. Except it would have no content network behind it. Ergo:

>>Or, if B&N can talk publishers off the DRM ledge and onto the watermarking perch, they could just switch to using iBooks when on iOS and have a book delivery app that doesn’t do anything but notify people when new books are ready to be copied into iBooks.

Wow, why isn't this guy CEO? So in other words Amazon and B&N should get rid of their delivery networks and build a better reading application that will compete against apple which has:

1) a device 2) a content delivery network 3) a proprietary delivery format that they can add new features to 4) a builtin application

And the value proposition is the reader app is better? Well, it if its you don't need to do anything the author suggests. You just need to improve your e-reading application.

The author confuses needing to understand where the market is going with making up a fantasy world where nothing you have done to support your existing business should be accepted.


> So in other words Amazon and B&N should get rid of their delivery networks and build a better reading application...

On the contrary, he says that's what B&N should not do. My guess is you misread the bullet points in the middle of the article as being his recommendation, when in fact they're another set of bullet points he says are mistaken. His final set of bullet points are the real ones, wherein he says B&N and Amazon should discontinue tablets and reader applications, and make better storefronts, letting Apple or third parties make the better reader.


eInk is easier on the eyes than the highest resolution display available on any smart-device. I have half a dozen smart devices and still choose to read (books, not comics or web-pages) on my eInk device when given the opportunity.


eInk devices are also crazy-light, even compared to a paperback, and the battery life is measured in weeks.


I feel like I stumbled into a stuffy country club to find this guy sitting cross-legged in a leather chair with a monocle and a cigar. After a long diatribe about how he wouldn't be caught dead in my jeans and t-shirt attire, he decides to relate his feelings on B&N.

The smugness is palpable, although I'm catching some points and have issues with others, I'm not allowed to speak until he's said his peace. At one point, I'm told that since I didn't ask a question when he mention "value network", I'm immediately told I know nothing about it and therefore required to listen to him site a book I've already read.

Finally when it is all over and done, when I finally have a moment to parlay my rebuttal, I let him know he's missing a number of points and confusing some issues. But instead of listening and countering, he waves his hand and stamps out his cigar. And as he walks away mutters "Arsehole" in that under-your-breath manner that is still loud and obviously intended for you to hear.

As I turn back, I see that a card has been placed on my chair. It informs me who this monocled figure was that felt the need to not simply inform, but belittle me and my opinions. Then on the back is inscribed, "But of course you already knew who I was..."

Although, it's true I don't fully subscribe to his points. The way this piece was written made me feel I wasn't allowed to have a dissenting thought. It's like he went out of his way to deny you your critical thinking, and therefore difficult to take seriously. Just my couple cents...


@mikecane: In your Fallacy of the B&N Fallacy response, you quote and reply to bullet points baldur is already saying are fallacy. I'm copying my comment[1] on that HN post here:

--

mike cane, you excerpted the wrong bit of the original article:

Create a first rate storefront+reader on Android and the web.

Shift more resources into the iOS app and make it better than anybody else’s.

Perform a series of commerce-oriented experiments, e.g. subscriptions, bundling, in-book payments, etc.

The bit you quoted and respond to is what he said other people's advice was.

Note the sentence AFTER those bullet points: "Those are all good but I’d argue that doing this wouldn’t solve B&N’s problem in the long term."

The actual advice was to exit the app business entirely:

Discontinue the tablets.

Milk the e-ink cow until it topples over.

Make an awesome storefront.

Discontinue the reading app and license somebody else’s.

--

1. Crosspost of http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5299419


I agree, mostly because the technology is finally there for a multi-purpose device to be a first-rate reader. You need high resolution, low enough weight for pleasant one-handed use, and decent scale (both size and aspect ratio). In B & N's defense, their current 9" model is far and away the best thing on the market for hitting all these sweet spots (it's about 10% lighter than the comparable Kindle and has a slightly wider screen). But yeah, a "retina" iPad mini is going to kill the dedicated reading device.

Aside: I'm a big e-ink fan (I've owned 4 generations of Kindles) and heavy reader that's slowly being brought around to the value of hi-DPI LCD screens. For all the explanations of e-ink's virtues, I think the main advantage was the lack of aliasing and other artifacts that text suffers on sub-200 dPi screens.


He thinks amazon should be scared their ODM will replace them, but the ODM doesn't have a brand, doesn't have services, doesn't have a digital storefront to sell with. You could throw a clone of the Kindle on the market right now for a lower price, but without amazon selling it and services to feed it content, it isn't going to go anywhere. Heck, there were countless e-readers that didn't make it before amazon.


Um, B&N should keep making hardware and they probably will. They are doing well and have a built in market. If they lose hardware, they won't have a strong enough software distribution mechanism and will lose by default to Amazon.

It would be stupid, bordering on insane to give up the one good thing B&N has going for it. Without Nook, B&N is Tower Records. Nook software is pointless without hardware, same as Kindle software.


A question is how much Microsoft wants to be in the business of making Android tablets... http://www.zdnet.com/microsoft-barnes-and-noble-joint-ventur...


I hope nobody is surprised to find that B&N's management is not incompetent and has made the correct decision: B&N can't become a viable player in e-books and e-book reading devices, much less media and media playback devices in the broader sense, which is likely required for success.

Bookstores will continue to decline, but there is a place for the last man standing. College bookstores are dominated by B&N and focusing on where you are winning is a good decision.

At best, Microsoft could buy Nook and the B&N e-book infrastructure and turn it into a software component for Windows 8 devices. At worst, it's doomed to not become viable.

If Nook does become viable it will do so mostly outside the US.




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