I so wanted to say something nice about Barnes & Noble, the Nook, and its new B&N eReader App for the iPad. I’ve been a little harsh at times in the past, I’ll admit: even as recently as yesterday.

So, after reading early reviews of the iPad app from a couple of colleagues, and seeing how, as in the above screenshot, it had already soared to the top of all free apps in the iPad App Store, I was ready. I had even written a headline in my mind for the post:

New Reading App from B&N Advances iPad Experience

At the very least, I felt sure, the new B&N eReader App’s cool features will put pressure on Amazon and Apple to finish what they’ve started and deliver on the unrealized potential of the Kindle for iPad and iBooks apps.

Then I had to go and ruin it all by actually trying the thing out myself.

I’m sorry. I hate to be a grump, a curmudgeon, or all the other names that B&N fans might be thinking of for me just now — names that I’m sure I richly deserve — if they are thinking of me at all, which is doubtful.

I downloaded the app. It was free. It took about 20 seconds, and then it only took me another few seconds to delete two earlier iterations of B&N eReader apps that were not iPad-optimized, and which frankly I had not used much. All good so far.

I downloaded Dracula, one of the free books offered right there on the home screen and was charmed by the nicely realized feature set including all manner of font sizes, font styles, margin settings, background colors, page layouts, page numbers, and the furthest advances yet with respect to annotations and highlighting in an iPad-optimized reading app.

So far, I thought, they’ve raised the bar dramatically, although the lack of selection, while lights years ahead of the iBooks catalog, remains embarrassing compared to that in the Kindle Store.

Time to try to buy something! 

Maybe I’m cheap. Maybe it was just my bad judgment, to try to buy a newspaper that I wanted to read for 49 cents rather than laying out $10 or $15 for an ebook (when, after all, I’ve got dozens of books already in my Kindle account and not enough time to read them all on my Kindle, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac, Blackberry, or PC).

I’d already heard from blogging colleagues that, unlike the Kindle for iPad App or the iBooks App, the B&N eReader App would allow me to buy a newspaper and read it! Perfect for the iPad, I thought, and very convenient since after watching the last night’s NBA playoff game I wanted to see what my local Boston Globe writers had to say about elbows, concussions, and gratuitous technical fouls. But I digress.

I clicked on “add books” and was transported to the B&N ebook store.

I clicked on eNewspapers and finger-flicked my way down to the fourth row to find the Globe. There it was, ready to buy, with a big fat “Buy Current Issue” button and a nice graphic of the iPad and a bunch of other gadgets right next to the words “Works with any computer or mobile device.”

My mouth was watering, and I will admit that I was wondering why Amazon was so slow to offer periodicals and blogs (yeah, like this one!) in all its various Kindle apps, and why Amazon was so slow to bring obviously needed upgrades including some of the features mentioned a few paragraphs up to its Kindle for iPad app, and why Amazon this, and why Amazon that. But, yep, I digress. This isn’t flippin’ Ulysses, after all, and I do not need to be boring you with my interior monologue.

I tapped the Buy button.

The credit card I had on file with B&N had expired a couple of years ago, so I was prompted to enter my credit card, my name, my address, and even the little three-digit security code that Amazon has never ever asked me for from the back of my credit card. I gave it all up willingly, perhaps even gratefully. Take that, Mr. Bezos! And you, too, Mr. Jobs!

Might I be well on the way to becoming a B&N guy? A Nook Man?

I might, I might! It might be something less than a fundamental reordering of the U.S. economy, but the thousands of dollars I have spent with Amazon and Apple over the past few years might soon be redirected to “the bookstore I grew up with,” as Barnes & Noble’s latest marketing message so generously puts it in describing a store that didn’t exist until I was in my 20s.

An email appeared almost instantaneously in my inbox confirming my purchase. The 49-cent charge appeared magically among the somewhat larger pending charges in my online credit card account display.

I was close to newspaper-reading bliss!

Back to the home screen, then, where I tapped on the Globe image that had already appeared there.

And here is what I saw next:

Technical difficulties.

I winced. I tried again, exited, re-entered, tapped and tapped again, searching for some way around the little glitch that, ever the optimist, I was sure would soon be set right.

Finally, at long last, a different message appeared:

Aha. Everything was explained.

“This item is not yet supported on this device.”

And not only that! Also, “We are sorry.”

Okay then.

How about, “Click here for an automatic freakin’ refund!”

Or how about “Not only are we sorry, but here’s why we’re sorry: we just wasted 5 minutes of your time because nobody on our incredibly lame team bothered to take 5 minutes for quality control before we rolled this out.”

Nope. Because this is Barnes & Noble, which used an old Edsel launch manual for its Nook roll-out in November, and has continued to foul its own bed with nearly every step it has taken in the ebook arena.

Sure, they will fix it sooner or later, maybe tonight. Everything gets fixed sooner or later, doesn’t it? And true, there are a lot of cool features in their new app, which will certainly accelerate the work that the serious players in this arena must do to catch up.

But the bottom line is that B&N has screwed up again. I could be more generous, I’m sure. I could take a step back, take a deep breath, and conclude that I just happened to hit on the one minor screw-up in this latest launch, that there would probably be no others.

But, you know, it’s Santayana and the history thing. We’ve been there and done that:

You know the quote from Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Actually, on a certain level, you could say that B&N seems to learn very well from “history.” As I said in a post yesterday, “the best way to predict what Barnes & Noble will do at any given time is to look at what Amazon did two or three years ago.”

But I didn’t get that exactly right, did I?

To be more precise, what Barnes & Noble will do at any given time is to take what Amazon did two or three years ago and figure out how to screw it up. 

Editor’s Note:  the above is reprinted, with permission, from Stephen Windwalker’s Planet iPad.  PB


  1. I think one reason why I was so disappointed in the BN app was because they didn’t get a launch day release and thus had almost two months to really perfect the program that was purportedly in production long before the launch and much longer before the actual release of the App.

    The lack of an in app brightness feature is really unforgivable along with the inability to organize the books into any semblance or order. BN had an opportunity to learn from the flaws of its competitors and really break out with an ideal reading app but failed.

  2. if it’s 90% right, is it really fair to say it “fails”? wouldn’t it be better to say it falls short, or something? is only making a reviewer 100% happy the only way to say an app doesn’t fail?

  3. Yesterday I tried to buy a copy of the NY Times to test the B&N e-reader on my iPad. I am abroad at the moment but used my American credit card with an American billing address. The B&N computer, reading my IP address, immediately sent me an e-mail explaining that customers had to be PHYSICALLY PRESENT in the US to make a purchase. I called and spoke to a service rep. His advice: “Call a friend at home and ask him to make the purchase for you on your account.” Who dreams up policies like these? And why?

  4. i find the b&n e-reader to be third (of three) e-books apps i have on my ipad.

    i have the kindle app and also the ibook reader app of course, besides the b&n e-reader. the ibook reader is best, i have to say i just love the “turning the page” animation thing, and the landscape mode allows you to read both pages….cool!!

    the kindle is great too, and the amazon e-book selection is very good and certainly WAY WAY more extensive than the ibook apple store.

    but the look of the b&n e-reader for the ipad isn’t as good, in that you can’t make the print smaller (it’s really big for me) unless you have the whole page small, like REALLY small, in the center of the ipad screen. the other two e-readers have better print size options….an important thing.

    and i had a nook, for one day, before i returned it. i loved the size, weight, and shape of it, that was great and way better than the ipad.

    but it did some not so great things, plus it’s not set up for macs, so if you want to add your music, ok as long as your music is all mp3s…well, apple’s itunes is aac encoded, so you have to change ALL your music over to mp3s….um, no. too much work!!

    plus the screen at the botton of the nook, where you do all the functions is really, REALLY a small space at the bottom, too small. and the touch thing isn’t like a touch screen on a smart phone or iphone or ipad. it’s very limited. kinda frustrating if you are used to a touch screen. cause this ain’t it.

    and…. you can only buy books FROM THE B&N store! LIMITED. VERY LIMITED. on the ipad you can buy from all three e-reader sites. nice. convenient. smart. cool, many choices! i wanted to read “the girl with the dragon tattoo”, which they didn’t have at the ibook apple store, so i bought it from amazon (kindle) at a nice sale price!

    so….i love the e-readers, but esp. kindle and ibook, but if the ipad was a little lighter in weight i’d love it even more. other than that, it’s the new love of my life.

  5. @Sue: The NOOK lets you buy e-books from almost anywhere except Amazon—and to check out e-books from the library—because it supports Adobe EPUB in addition to B&N’s formats.

    However, buying anywhere except B&N has to be done on your computer. The wireless purchasing feature is B&N only.

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