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Signs of life at Barnes & Noble

They're not about to knock off Amazon but their latest innovations are a pleasant surprise

I tend to be pretty open with my criticism when I feel an organization is doing something wrong. That’s why I feel compelled to also speak up and give credit when credit is due. In this case, I’d like to applaud some recent announcements by Barnes & Noble.

Taking on the discoverability problem

This recent article from Laura Hazard Owen highlights B&N’s news and the most important point can be summarized in one word: discoverability. B&N has always had the benefit of a brick-and-mortar presence and that presence brings with it years of knowledge about the art of discoverability, at least in the physical world. Now B&N needs to apply that knowledge to the online world.

Most importantly though, I’m thrilled that B&N is acting like a leader here and not simply following Amazon on the critical issue of discoverability.

I absolutely love B&N’s new Instant Collections feature (also referred to as Nook Channels). Yes, every ebook retailer has offered cross-sell recommendations from day one but they always feel very automated to me. B&N’s Instant Collections has more of a hand-curated feel to it. I was just looking over the History by Plot collection and I know I’m going to buy a few of those now. That’s rare for me as I don’t generally open my wallet for new ebooks without a recommendation from someone I know.

Shop from within the book — what a concept

Then there’s this comment from Theresa Horner, B&N’s VP of digital content:

We’re trying to integrate that shopping experience from right inside the book. We don’t require somebody to go to the shop.

Doesn’t that seem like something that should have been in every ebook reader app from day one? It’s so obvious but nobody had implemented it till now. Btw, when I tweeted this yesterday someone replied saying they don’t want to be bothered with ads and nags to buy from within the book. I’ve got to believe that’s not how B&N plans to implement this. If they’re smart they’ll make it unobtrusive yet easily accessible from within the book. Very smart.

If B&N has the benefit of discovery experience from their physical bookstores you have to say that one of Amazon’s advantages is their breadth of products. Books are where Amazon started but they’re only part of a much larger store now. B&N, on the other hand, pretty much lives and dies by the book industry. That’s why the decision to add “about 100 catalogs from such retailers as L.L. Bean and Pottery Barn for free browsing” is such an interesting development. B&N isn’t suddenly going to expand their online catalog to match Amazon’s so why not partner with some of the biggest names in non-book retailing and add their products to the Nook ecosystem? I’m assuming B&N receives a portion of any sales generated by L.L. Bean, Pottery Barn, etc., through this program, btw.

Making recommendations personal

The “Your Nook Today” functionality is also long overdue. I don’t need yet another screen telling me the current weather but I would definitely welcome product recommendations based on the content that’s on my device. Prior to buying a Nook with GlowLight I had a Kindle Touch with Special Offers. Those “special offers” were random, paid ads that had nothing to do with my interests. Since I never clicked through any of the offers I often wondered how much advertising money was wasted on them. Don’t just stop there though, B&N…feel free to steal any of these ideas I suggested earlier.

I’m pretty happy with my Asus Transformer Prime but if B&N keeps innovating like this they might get me to buy one of their tablets. Better yet, maybe they’ll just add this functionality into their Nook app so everyone can enjoy it.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/edward.w.bear Edward Bear

    I’m sorry, but Barnes and Noble may have trimmed the lawn around the edges, but the core, the experience of actually buying eBooks is still a shopper’s nightmare.

    Let’s say, to take a recent example, I want to buy all five books of Timothy Zahn’s “Quadrail” series. All five books. The buying procedure is simple. Select book. Click “Buy”. Use popup window to insure it’s YOU buying the book. Click “Confirm.” Presto! Book bought.

    Simple, eh? So why do I use the word “nightmare”? BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN FOR EACH SEPARATE BOOK!!!!! (emphasis in original, and not nearly loud enough). This is not, by any means, buyer-friendly. It would appear that B&N has never heard two lovely words: “shopping cart.” This is something that fictionwise, which B&N *bought*, has been doing for over ten years.

    Even Amazon doesn’t have a shopping cart, but at least you can buy with one click instead of many clicks plus data entry.

    Contrast this with an order I placed two days ago at BooksOnBoard.

    Date: Sep 25, 2012 05:05pm  # of items: 20 Total: $117.28

    Click Buy. Enter CC information securely. Click confirm.  Go download your books.

    If I had to buy 20 books at B&N’s website, I’d have grounds for suit for carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress injury, would I not?

    Signs of life? [walks off laughing fit to bust]

    • jwikert

      I hope I didn’t imply that the entire B&N experience is perfect. It’s not. Neither is anyone else’s though. I *am* impressed with the new functionality they’re implementing. They’ve been playing the me-too game for too long, so this is a great step in the right direction.

      • http://profiles.google.com/edward.w.bear Edward Bear

         I understood that “it’s a step.” My plaint was more directed to the fact that B&N is ignoring BASIC things, and shopping carts are just that, User Experience 101.

        “Shop inside the book,” in fact, assumes you’re already willing to put up with their clunky system to GET the book in the first place.