It turns out that Apple isn’t the only platform-bound company trying to reach out to other platforms with a digital audio initiative. A year after coming out with an audiobook app for Android, Barnes & Noble is releasing iOS apps for its Nook Audiobooks program, as well as launching a new Nookaudiobooks.com website where you can buy such audiobooks directly instead of having to go through BN.com.
On Good eReader, Michael Kozlowski waxes enthusiastic about the 60,000-title library Barnes & Noble offers, calling the expansion to iOS “a fairly great thing.” The Digital Reader’s Nate Hoffelder notes that the service is “not […] particularly well-designed” and won’t let you play non-B&N titles in the player. (Rather like the way you can’t sideload non-B&N e-books into the Nook e-reader application. At least B&N is consistent!)
Speaking of being consistent, isn’t it something how Barnes & Noble’s digital media strategy invariably brings to mind the phrase “too little, too late”? The company keeps cranking out these desultory second-rate efforts to compete with established behemoth Amazon.
The original Nook e-ink reader at least showed some promise, trying to beat the Kindle by incorporating something the Kindle didn’t—a tiny LCD screen for title selection and the like. (Never mind that most people didn’t seem to want such a screen, and B&N dropped it from later models—there was at least a chance starting out that some people would.) But since then, most of B&N’s attempts to compete have been with applications or services that just weren’t as good as what Amazon had. Barnes & Noble at least had the foresight to buy the two most successful commercial e-book vendors prior to the Kindle—eReader and Fictionwise—but then it ran them into the ground and finally closed them down entirely when agency pricing came in. And its own e-book services lag behind Amazon’s in features, convenience, and the ability to download or sideload.
And then there’s this Nook Audiobooks thing. Why give Amazon several years to establish Audible as “the” brand for commercial digital audiobooks, with over 180,000 titles, before trying to launch an also-ran service with only a third as many books available? (And why wait a year after launching it on Android to launch it for iOS?) Do they really think there’s some huge untapped audiobook audience out there who never bothered to get into Audible because it was waiting for Barnes & Noble to come along?
I would like to see some company be able to compete with Amazon by offering better goods and services, but the key word here is “better.” You might be able to draw people away from the biggest e-book store if you can offer something they can’t—but you can’t out-Amazon Amazon with products that aren’t even as good as Amazon’s. But this isn’t stopping Barnes & Noble from trying.