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Poor Barnes & Noble has been taking a real beating in the e-reader blog space lately, so I thought I’d share a link to a recent Mashable story that actually offers a bit of positive B&N and Nook news. The lede graph of reporter Lauren Indvik’s piece tells the rather unfortunate financial B&N story we’ve been reading about everywhere over the past few days:

“Sales of Barnes & Noble’s line of tablets and e-readers declined in the company’s fiscal 2013 first quarter ending July 28, the bookseller reported Tuesday.” 

But then, there’s this:

“[Barnes & Noble's] digital content sales increased 46%. That was enough to make up for shrinking income from devices, which suffered lower average selling prices and production scaling issues — particularly for the Nook GlowLight B&N released in April, the company said. Collectively, total revenues for B&N’s Nook unit which includes digital content and accessories as well as hardware, amounted to $192 million, just $1 million more than it brought in during the comparable period last year.”

Indvik, of course, isn’t one to sugarcoat the truth:

“Hardware sales were bad in B&N’s last fiscal quarter, too. The company reported that it was forced to sell its devices at a lower margin to compete with Amazon’s Kindle lineup. Holiday sales of some devices — in particular, its $139 Nook Simple Touch E-Ink reader — were so poor that the company was forced to buy back inventory. E-readers were also returned in unexpectedly high numbers after the holidays, the company said.” 

And yet, Indvik also makes a point of playing by the objective journalistic rule of presenting both sides of a story:

“Those numbers may seem bad at first glance,” she writes, “but remember that Amazon takes a loss on sales of its Kindle Fire tablet and E-Ink e-readers, as well. For now, at least, B&N’s digital content sales are covering that loss.” (Emphasis ours. —Ed.)

Interesting, no?

So before we continue bashing Barnes & Noble into the proverbial wall, let’s try to remember the incontrovertible fact that numbers and statistics can essentially be skewed to represent almost anything we want them to. The Nook, for instance, is probably never going to achieve the overall popularity or sales numbers of Amazon’s Kindle. But does that necessarily mean their business plan is flawed, or that their digital division is a crash-and-burn failure?

The truth is … I don’t really know. And unless you happen to be holding an upper-management position with the B&N corporate office, neither do you. And that’s more or less the point.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the fine art of business speculation as much as the next guy; it can make for interesting conversation, to be sure. But if you’re going to use a bunch of subjective online articles and blog posts (this one included!) to base your B&N arguments on … well, just don’t.

That is all.

 
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