Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yet another take on the Microsoft–Barnes and Noble get together

I suppose I have a biased view, having worked for Microsoft in its heyday of the early 1990s. Exciting times.

$300 million is not a lot for Microsoft. But, it can be a life saver for a good company in trouble. Most seem to have forgotten that the most valuable company in the U.S. (market cap.) – Apple, was saved by a cash infusion of about $400 million in the mid-1990s. In this industry, things change quickly. Microsoft only does these things out of enlightened self interest, but there is some irony that it has been the white knight (a saint of circumstance) for Apple, Yahoo (although Yahoo rebuffed their original efforts), and now Barnes and Noble.

I and investors welcome this news, but for different reasons.As a small publisher, I welcome the increased competition and viability against Amazon (yeah, I used to work there too). As an author and publisher, I welcome the increased support to the ePub standard this will bring. ePub is an open standard and significantly more flexible than the Kindle-Mobi standard (despite some embracing of HTML 5 for the Kindle Fire device). The truth is, no matter the bashing by a laundry list of people, Microsoft understands software development. It understands Software Development Kits (SDKs – again I am biased I was in charge of the Far East SDKs way back when) and it understands working with the development community. It understands getting easy kits out there, the phenomenal success of Visual Basic for many years is one example. All this will help Barnes and Noble, small publishers, and even authors.

Amazon understands customers. Period. End customers. It does not understand merchants well, it does not understand publishers well, and it does not really understand publishing/authors well. It understands VOLUME. It is, as a company, as an organism, geared toward growth. Growth at almost any cost. It is really, really, smart at growth and keeping the customer happy, but just as a dictator in a South American country may keep most of the people happy, most of the time, through cheap gas and subsidies, it may not understand the end game past growth for growth sake. What happens when the oil wells run dry? (OK, I am stretching metaphors).

Back to the B&N and Microsoft deal. Don’t expect big bangs here. The Nook will still be the Nook. It will probably still run on a version of the Android OS.  But, there will be a convergence of some technologies on Windows 8 tablets and phones and what the Nook does. The app marketplace will become robust on the Nook +.  And, there will be some confidence that Microsoft won’t pull the plug on this, because it can’t. It is an investor, but not a controller. This is all good.

I believe that not only will this speed up the adoption of ePub 3.0 on devices, but also robust interactive “books” will accelerate much faster. Microsoft often is accused of not being innovative, perhaps, but it has often HELPED other companies be innovative through investments and developer flocking.

eBooks are here to stay and for the time being, so is Barnes and Noble in one form or another. I for one, say Yay!

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