Barnes & Noble May Back Away from Tablets

Barnes & Noble is reportedly rethinking its Nook tablet business, and may focus more on licensing content to other hardware makers.

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Barnes & Noble

The 9" Nook HD+

Barnes & Noble is reportedly rethinking its Nook tablet business, and may focus more on licensing content to other hardware makers.

Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times reported the story, citing an unnamed source:

“They are not completely getting out of the hardware business, but they are going to lean a lot more on the comprehensive digital catalog of content,” said this person, who asked not to be identified discussing corporate strategy.

On Thursday, the person said, the company will emphasize its commitment to intensify partnerships with other tablet producers like Microsoft and Samsung to make deals for content that it controls.

I’m guessing we won’t hear much about Barnes & Noble’s tablet strategy on Thursday, if this report is correct. The best indicator will likely come during the holiday shopping season — the timeframe during which Barnes & Noble and rival Amazon have announced new tablets for the past two years.

Barnes & Noble has never given sales numbers for its hardware, but Forrester Research has claimed that holiday tablet shoppers — among those who didn’t buy iPads — preferred tablets from Samsung, Amazon and Google over the Nook line. That’s despite solid reviews for tablets like the Nook HD. Forrester’s Sarah Rotman Epps told the Times that the Nook is a “failure of brand,” echoing the sentiment of other analysts who think Barnes & Noble can’t shake its reputation as a bookseller and nothing more.

My biggest qualm with Nook tablets has little to do with branding. The app selection on Nook tablets is too limited compared to other platforms, and there are hardly any free apps at all. Barnes & Noble also lacks a digital music store, and only launched a store for videos late last year. It doesn’t matter how attractive the hardware is if the content selection is weak. In fact, Barnes & Noble’s branding issues may have a lot to do with the company’s lack of digital content beyond e-books.

There are still plenty of questions about what a less Nook-focused Barnes & Noble might look like, but concentrating more on the content seems like a good idea, especially now that so many inexpensive tablets are available. On its own, decent hardware for cheap doesn’t cut it anymore.

UPDATE: Barnes & Noble reached out with the following statement: “To be clear, we have no plans to discontinue our award-winning line of NOOK products.” It’s worth pointing out that the Times never reported that Barnes & Noble was discontinuing its Nook line. The claim was that the company may move away from the tablet business in the future to focus on content partnerships.

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