B&N: free coffee, overheating, and re-branding
All eyes are on Barnes & Noble.
Go back four years ago.
There were independent bookstores.
There were chain bookstores.
There were online bookstores.
There were incidental bookstores (Targets, Costcos, grocery stores).
Of these four, the chain bookstores may have been the most important, at least for frontlist titles (the online stores probably sell the “long tail” of the backlist better).
Looking at that segment, the two big chains were Borders and Barnes & Noble. Crown Books was gone, B. Dalton was owned by Barnes & Noble, and Waldenbooks was owned by Borders. Books-A-Million was out there, but didn’t have much pop culture cache.
Now, Borders has filed for bankruptcy.
Barnes & Noble is the last giant on the battlefield.
People wonder if they’ll go the way of Borders and the other chains. I think that’s a misunderstanding of the market, personally, but they definitely have to look at whether the old chain model is where they want to put their energy.
Let’s take a look at three recent stories about Barnes & Noble.
What can Barnes & Noble do for you that Amazon can’t?
Give you a hot cup of coffee.
This Saturday (February 26), if you go into a store and try out the NOOKColor (or the E Ink NOOK), they’ll give you a free cup of coffee.
B&N free coffee details
That makes some sense to me. People who use the NOOKColor do tend to like it. If they keep the brick-and-mortar stores (which seems likely to me, for a while anyway), they need to push the experience. The cafe is definitely part of that.
Go in, try out a NOOK, get your coupon, get your coffee, pull out your Kindle, sit back and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere.
Thanks to Terryp in the Amazon Kindle community for the heads up on this one…and for providing a link to the story:
King 5 news story
The story basically goes like this.
Someone who got a NOOK (and loved it…that comes up several times in the story) plugs it into charge behind the couch…actually, into an extension cord.
The charger overheats, and burns the couch and a cushion…like a cigarette burn, not in flames.
The consumer calls Barnes & Noble, wanting a replacement charger. The consumer calls six or seven times, with no response, no call back.
So, the NOOK lover goes to the local TV consumer advocate, Jesse Jones. We have those here, too…I could name a couple. The consumer advocate contacts Barnes & Noble. They replace the charger (they don’t understand why it wasn’t replaced before), and…ta ta ta DAH…send a more than three thousand check to replace the couch.
This is presented by the news station as the retailer “stepping up”.
That’s not stepping up…that’s just showing up.
They owed the consumer for that couch…their equipment burned it. It’s possible the extension cord played a part, and perhaps there are instructions not to leave the charger in contact with furniture.
UPDATE: It was correctly pointed out to me (and I should have noted it) that what they owed was the replacement value of the couch, not the money to buy a new couch. If the couch was several years old, not in perfect shape, it might only have been worth a couple of hundred dollars. They did pay more than they would typically have had to pay, and quite a bit more. That doesn’t absolve them, for me, for not having responded initially or not knowing why she didn’t get a charger right away. It might if this kind of service was a fluke, but that hasn’t been my experience. I want to commend them, though, for going an extra step.
Regardless, while the story seems to set Barnes & Noble up as heroes in this, it strikes me as a good example of bad customer service. You shouldn’t have to go to the media to get a replacement charger!
I’ve had to get a replacement Kindle, and Kindle Customer Service was great. I got it right away, they paid for me to ship my Kindle back…they even checked back with me.
The burning problem could happen to any company…it’s the way they dealt with it.
That’s honestly one of the reasons I tend to promote the Kindle over the NOOK…I’ve only had great Customer Service from Amazon (both in policy and in interactions) and that hasn’t been my experience with Barnes & Noble (at least outside the brick-and-mortar stores…those have been good).
I did a little research to see if this overheating looked like a widespread problem, and didn’t immediately see indications of that.
There were some stories that if a NOOKColor had been “hacked” to allow it to run other Android apps (like Angry Birds), it might disable the battery monitoring system that would cause it to shut itself off in a protective move if it was overheating.
I didn’t see that as proven at all, more of a rumor. My intuition is that wasn’t the case here.
I wouldn’t worry about it particularly with your NOOK…just take your normal precautions when charging anything.
Do you own Barnes & Noble stock and are wondering where your dividends (which B&N is suspending for now) are going?
How about $40 million dollars for re-branding?
Boston Globe story
is presented from the angle of the win for Mullen, the advertising agency. They’ve got some big clients (JetBlue, Zappos…which is owned by Amazon), and seems to be in an upward growth pattern.
The goal will probably be to get people to think of the NOOK as the NOOK…not as “Barnes & Noble’s Kindle”.
It’s an interesting challenge…do you promote the existence of the stores? Do you go for your “storied” history? After all, Barnes & Noble has been around since 1917, Amazon since 1994 (online in 1995).
That’s going to be tough, though. Is “established history” really the way to sell a revolution?
If you go for Barnes & Noble as the savior of the paperbook, how do you avoid the perception that the chainstore crushed local independents?
Do you go after Amazon? How, specifically? It’s not like Amazon is going to be seen as the big dog, the lumbering colossus, like IBM or Xerox was seen. They are stll the innovators, the nimble, non-traditional thinkers.
Amazon went up against a very established, pretty much closed system in paperbook distribution.
They’ve changed the game.
Barnes & Noble has been beating Amazon to some things (wi-fi EBRs ((E-Book Readers))…dropping the price of EBRs), but that’s going to be a hard case to make.
I’ll be interested to see what tactics this re-branding campaign uses.
So, three stories, three kinds of heat: hot coffee, scorched couch, and market heat.
What do you think? Where does B&N go from here…and where should they? Are you worried about your NOOK overheating? Do you plan to get a cup of coffee? Am I wrong to even jokingly suggest you’ll read your Kindle while sipping that cup of java? How should Barnes & Noble change their image to win the hearts and minds (and money) of the market? Do they concentrate on the serious readers, or go for the casual majority?
Feel free to let me know.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.