“This is a nook owner’s worst nightmare”: what happens if B&N drops the NOOK?
I recently wrote about a significant decline in Barnes & Nobles’ NOOK business.
That prompted one of my readers, Bruce K, to ask about what would be the upshot for NOOK owners if B&N dropped that part of the business. The comment included the quotation that headlines this story.
Well, let’s look at the issue.
The first thing to note is that this isn’t like Beta versus VHS or LPs versus CDs. Getting to your e-books isn’t a hardware issue like those, it’s a software issue.
If you have Beta tapes (I do) and nothing on which to play them, they aren’t worth much to you.
When you are looking at a digital file, all you need is the right software to read it…not a specific physical piece of equipment.
If B&N dropped the NOOK hardware part, but kept doing NOOK books (and providing the wide range of NOOK reader apps they have, in a way similar to Amazon), you’ll have your content. Oh, you might not want to read it on a tablet with the NOOK app, but that might be what happens (or you could read it on a computer, a SmartPhone, and so on).
If the NOOK hardware was no longer available new, of course that might mean that publishers would be less likely to release books in that format. Eventually, somebody who owned NOOKs and didn’t want to switch to something else (like a Kindle) might find that the books they want to read aren’t available to them.
Barnes & Noble could also stop servicing NOOKs…probably once the warrantys ran out.
So, what happens if Barnes & Noble drops the NOOK book business (as opposed to the hardware)?
My first guess is that somebody else would buy it. There’s probably enough of a customer base to make that happen. The new owners could change the rules…for example, they could charge you an annual fee to back-up your books for you. If the company was just doing NOOK books, they couldn’t use them to inspire other sales, the way Barnes & Noble could with NOOKs and the bookstores. They also might not be able to sell you physical accessories in a profitable way.
My Significant Other suggested Amazon might buy the business in that case, but I think that might be a tough one to get by regulators. Hmm…I suppose Amazon could offer NOOK owners some serious incentives (like giving them some of their NOOK books for free as Kindle store books), but I don’t think they’d have any real motivation to do that. NOOK owners would be very likely to go to Amazon with no incentive.
Let’s go further and say that Barnes & Noble drops the NOOK books business, and no one else picks it up.
The big issue would be where you had your books. If they were only on Barnes & Nobles’ servers, you might just be out of luck. I suspect they would give you some time to download them before shutting the service down.
For ones you had downloaded, they would be good while the device for which they were licensed was still operating. To my knowledge, downloaded e-books do not have to confirm their licenses periodically through the internet.
Once that device died, though, and presuming you had copied the files onto another device (like a computer), what could you do with them?
The files would generally have DRM (Digital Rights Management) on them which keyed them to the dead device*. That software would prevent them from being opened and read on another device.
Generally, it is illegal for citizens to strip the DRM from a file, thanks to something called the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act):
“Sec. 1201. Circumvention of copyright protection systems
`(a) VIOLATIONS REGARDING CIRCUMVENTION OF TECHNOLOGICAL MEASURES- (1)(A) No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title…”
Even though it is possible to remove DRM technically, it might be illegal to do so under these circumstances.
That’s where it gets a bit tricky, and where I could see us having a decision made that it is legal.
There are exemptions to the rule about not circumventing access, and those rules are revisited regularly (every three years).
It all gets pretty complicated, but you can read the most recent discussion of exemptions here:
It is possible that, if NOOK books were not supported in the market, the Copyright Office would determine it was okay to break the DRM to convert the books to other formats.
My own guess is that it won’t come to that…I do think somebody would pick up the service, if it was necessary.
Certainly, I don’t want to see the NOOK business end, for a couple of reasons. One is for the people who own them…even if they still have access to the books they’ve already purchased, access to books in the future seems inevitably limited to me.
Another is that it helps Kindle owners to have more competitors. Barnes & Noble has led some innovations for EBRs (E-Book Readers) and e-books, with Amazon following and responding.
Microsoft poured a ton of money into the NOOK business, and they could end up as the owners of the format, if B&N dropped it.
Of course, Microsoft stopped selling its own format, .lit, late in 2012, as I wrote about in this earlier post.
I’ve said several times that I think it is more likely that my descendants will have access to my Kindle store books than that they will have access to my paperbooks, and I still think that’s the case.
If I had NOOK books? I wouldn’t be as sure…
What do you think?
Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.
* Update: one of my very technically adept readers, Tom Semple, has pointed out that the book files aren’t really keyed to a specific device. I was equating Barnes & Noble’s system with Amazon’s, and that appears to be incorrect. Read Tom’s comments to see some information about which apps and devices could read your NOOK books. I’m at least a bit relieved to see that David Pogue of the New York Times also had to clarify that idea:
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.