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  (Source: Michael Rafter)
Book seller will look to partner with third parties for branded color tablets, to avoid soaring losses

Between fiscal Q4 2012 and fiscal Q4 2013 (calendar Q1 2013), Barnes & Noble, Inc. (BKS) took a financial beating thanks to soaring losses from its tablet unit.  

The book seller's retailer wing dipped slightly from last year, down to a profit (EBITDA) of $51M USD, versus $67M USD from a year before.  The new college textbook unit chipped in an additonal $4M USD.

I. Licensing, E-Book Slump, Cost-Cutting Drive NOOK HD/HD+ to Massive Losses

But the tablet unit lost $177M USD in Q4 2013 -- $100M USD more than it did last year.  That plunged the otherwise profitable company to a net loss.  Revenue for the tablet unit plunged to $108M USD from $164M USD last year.

E-INK readers have been a double-edged sword for Barnes & Noble.  While, Inc. (AMZN) showed the market that e-books are a ticket to higher profits, B&N's Nook -- launched during the 2009 holiday season -- has been largely a money loser for B&N.  The company added a color Android tablet (the Nook Color) during the holiday 2010 season, which was followed by the Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets.  

But ultimately if E-INK were break-even or slimly profitable, with e-book sales considered, color tablets were even worse for the book seller, proving to be pure money-losers.  The sector's aggressive pace of cost cutting -- plus forced licensing from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) -- left Barnes & Noble swallowing a loss for every tablet.

Steve Ballmer
With partners like this, who needs enemies?  Microsoft (CEO Steve Ballmer pictured) has forced Barnes & Noble into painful licensing with lawsuits, despite their common e-book business.
[Image Source: Getty Images]

The parasitic Microsoft relationship is particularly peculiar in that the pair are technically partners -- Microsoft and B&N jointly own stakes in the "Newco" e-book venture.  Microsoft owned approximately 16.8 percent stake in Newco, while B&N owned 83.2 percent ($1.49B USD) of the venture as of its April 2012 launch.  

That partnership hasn't stopped Microsoft from suing its partner over alleged patent infringements (which were eventually settled with a licensing deal).  As B&N uses Google Inc.'s (GOOG), it's as much a competitor to Microsoft as a partner (Microsoft's allies use Windows 8 or Windows RT in their tablets).  Microsoft was rumored to be eyeing a $1B USD acquisition of the entire NOOK business, but it appears that ultimately B&N has opted for a different route.

This may be a case where the licensing parasite drained a little too much, killing the host.  At the very least, the cost of lawsuits and licensing didn't help B&N.

The company's losses were further exacerbated by the fact that Q4 was a down quarter for e-book sales, with no major hits, versus a year ago which saw the release of books in the Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey trilogies.  Plus Apple, Inc. (AAPL) allegedly drove up prices via anticompetitive price fixing tactics with book publishers, which raised the average cost of an e-book from $10 to $15, while giving the digital seller virtually no cut of the extra cost (while offering lower overall sales due to supply and demand).

II. Fire Sale Ahead

So what is B&N going to do to avoid allowing these losses to scuttle the entire company?  Given the severity, the company has at last sprung into action with a decisive plan of action -- one which preserves the NOOK brand in some form.

The good news for consumers is that it sounds like you should be able to potentially get the decently reviewed NOOK HD or NOOK HD+ (powered by  Android OS) at fire sale prices shortly -- or as the company puts it:

The company will continue to offer its existing inventory of its high quality NOOK® HD and NOOK® HD+ devices at amazing prices through the holiday.
The Nook HD+ series is already available at incredibly low prices. In early May, B&N was selling the 16GB and 32GB Nook HD+ models for $179 and $199 respectively. Today, the company is selling those same tablets for $149 and $179 respectively. That $149 entry price gets you a 9" 1920x1280 display, 1.5GHz dual-core processor, microSD slot, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and full support for the Google Play Store.

Looking ahead Barnes & Noble is planning a major shift to cut its losses.  It will no longer design and build its own color Android tablets.  Instead, it will rely on branded contract designs with third party OEMs.

The Nook HD and HD+ will see inventory liquidation this fall. [Image Source: B&N]

It writes:

The widely popular lines of Simple Touch™ and Glowlight™ products will continue to be developed in house, and the company’s tablet line will be co-branded with yet to be announced third party manufacturers of consumer electronics products. At the same time, the company intends to continue to build its digital catalog, adding thousands of eBooks every week, and launching new NOOK Apps™.

Ultimately this is good news for Barnes & Noble, but somewhat bad news from consumers in the long term, as the tablet market looses another viable competitor. 

It's hard to say who's to blame for B&N's decision to bow out of this market.  One could easily blame Microsoft for its allegedly high licensing fees (which are reportedly $10 USD or more per device).  One could blame B&N for poor marketing.  One could blame Amazon cost cutting -- or blame Apple and Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930) for prompting those cuts by driving Amazon into third place.  Or one could even blame Apple's (alleged) e-book price fixing for raising the cost of e-books, cutting sales while offering no additional margin per book sold.

Of course, one could simply blame the market itself -- which is highly competitive and has high development costs with low rewards for smaller players.

Source: Barnes & Noble on BusinessWire

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By retrospooty on 6/25/2013 2:32:28 PM , Rating: 2
The only problem with thier tablet is that it was underpowered on the CPU, and for the GHD+@1920x1280, underpowered for the GPU as well. Add a faster SOC and they were highly competitive. As it is, it worked out well for us consumers anyhow. For the price, it cant be beat. Right now $129 for 1440x900 7 inch and $149 for the 1920x1280 9 incher. ITs certainly not the fastest, but the screens are awesome on both models. Great screens at any price.

RE: Bummer...
By testbug00 on 6/25/2013 2:39:28 PM , Rating: 2
I would say the real issue is rooting it is damn annoying.... you cannot truly do it, you have to boot off of an SD card and use that for everything :/

Also, i have a 16GB one, and I got it 3 weeks ago for $150.... 0.o

RE: Bummer...
By kmmatney on 6/25/2013 3:18:25 PM , Rating: 2
That hasn't been true for a while. I just rooted mine 2 days ago - you only need to boot from the SD card to perform the initial root and CM 10.1 install. After that, the SD card is no longer needed. The tablet runs a lot snappier with CM 10.1, and the latest build has fixed a lot of the initial bugs with the Nook HD+.

RE: Bummer...
By Solandri on 6/26/2013 3:49:54 AM , Rating: 3
I picked up a Nook HD+ for $149 three weeks ago. Not sure why Jason says they dropped the price to $149 today.

Simply rooting it is not enough. You also have to replace the recovery partition. I first rooted it and it ran fine for a week. Then one morning I turned it on and it was back to the default B&N version of Android.

I read up on it and learned that the tablet has a "feature" where if it suffers certain errors, it will automatically restore from recovery, thus reverting it to stock. I overwrote the recovery partition with CWM recovery and it has stayed rooted.

This tablet with CM 10.1 is a steal for $149. Yeah if you put it side-by-side with a $400 tablet, you'll see that it's slightly less smooth. But in regular use you will never notice it. I may pick up one or two more (one for the toilet, one for the sofa, one to carry around). The screen (1920x1280) is beautiful, and is a 3:2 aspect ratio making it perfect for displaying DSLR photos, only a small compromise for 16:9 movies, and a much better fit for paper and magazines than the iPad once you subtract the margins. If you wanted a tablet and don't need a camera, mic, or GPS, get a Nook HD (7") or HD+ (9") now and root it.

RE: Bummer...
By DT_Reader on 6/26/2013 7:22:36 PM , Rating: 2
I got an HD+ in early May. I'm waiting to root mine until the warranty runs out. The bummer for me is I paid $199. Oh, well, that was a great price at the time and a "limited time offer" so I took it.

I'm thinking of trying the SD-only root approach because it doesn't void the warranty, but so far the stock Nook has done well enough that I don't care. All I really miss is side-loading apps, and the only app I want to side-load is Flash so I can watch Hulu for free instead of paying for Hulu Plus.

RE: Bummer...
By Mitch101 on 6/25/2013 3:18:37 PM , Rating: 2
The USB plug on the chargers broke constantly and they are not cheap. It will charge with other USB plugs but not fast.

RE: Bummer...
By GulWestfale on 6/25/2013 3:49:03 PM , Rating: 2
150 bucks for a 9" tablet with a full HD screen? i'd buy one just to have a internet access on teh toilet... or for the nephew to play with... or, whatever. i'd find a reason. i mean, compare that to samsung's lackluster, overpriced tablets, or even the kindle fire.

RE: Bummer...
By bug77 on 6/25/2013 3:48:42 PM , Rating: 2
The real problem is it has little to do with their core business. Admitting a mistake and moving on is something I respect.

RE: Bummer...
By anactoraaron on 6/25/2013 9:51:06 PM , Rating: 2
Same thing can be said for the KF HD 8.9". Powered by the same SoC, equally root-able and CM10.1 upgrade-able, only this tablet has the micro sd slot. Anyone wanting a KF that doesn't already have one will likely buy one of these instead.
I was looking to buy a KF HD 8.9 but decided to wait, and I'm glad I did as the price dropped on the nook HD+ the next day (the $149 sale at BB).

On a side note, this price reduction is likely to increase development on XDA, and I'm looking forward to that :)

RE: Bummer...
By Myrandex on 6/26/2013 10:05:01 AM , Rating: 2
You forgot to mention the proprietary power cable...that always blows too.


First gen
By ipay on 6/25/2013 2:37:05 PM , Rating: 2
I have a first gen Nook with E-INK, and I am not and was never interested in any of the subsequent products. The first gen has a skinny bezel, user replaceable battery, and a non-LCD screen. It has a great battery life and doesn't require touching the screen to change pages. IMO perfect for a e-book reader.

RE: First gen
By Avatar28 on 6/25/2013 3:28:00 PM , Rating: 2
I gotta tell you, my wife had the first-gen nook. I picked up one of the Nook Simple Touch readers for her this past Christmas. The new one is a significant improvement. The interface is easier to use, the newer e-ink display is easier to read, page turns are faster, and the battery life is significantly better. Touching the screen really isn't a big deal. You just tap the edge of the screen right next to where the button would have been on the original model, it doesn't take any more reaching. I totally get not wanting one of the Nook tablets as a reader but don't discount the newer e-ink readers.

RE: First gen
By ipay on 6/25/2013 3:58:00 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you. I might have to give the Simple Touch another try based on your feedback. Did you purchase the model with the GlowLight? If so, opinions?

RE: First gen
By Avatar28 on 6/26/2013 12:40:39 AM , Rating: 2
No, it was the regular one I'm afraid as that's the one that was on sale. From my research prior to that though the glo sacrificed a bit of sharpness and contrast, especially when using the light, but that it was still an excellent screen. If you're going to be reading in the dark much, it would be worth it, IMHO.

RE: First gen
By Captain Orgazmo on 6/26/2013 3:12:20 AM , Rating: 2
I have the glowlight one. Contrast is not the best (esp. compared to the Paperwhite) but the glowlight, touch, scroll buttons, and epub support is worth it. The glowlight is surprisingly handy, even during the day you will use it (except in direct sun). However I got mine before the Paperwhite came out, and if I had the choice I probably would have gone for the amazon one and used Calibre to convert eBooks as needed.

RE: First gen
By Wolfpup on 6/26/2013 7:34:56 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I VASTLY prefer the Nook 1 to the 2/Simple Touch in form factor, feel, use of physical buttons, etc.

The only problem with the Nook 1 was the screen-it's slower/lower contrast than the eInk Pearl screens used now. But it LOOKS better, has buttons, feels better, flashes on page update, etc. "Simple touch" is just...really bad.

Nook rom
By EnzoFX on 6/25/2013 5:35:49 PM , Rating: 2
Am I the only one that thinks their customized launcher actually looks nice? Simple and still functional with a consistent style. Needless to say I'm sure stock 10.1 runs a little faster, but in it's current form it may be just fine for most people. Android could always use more consistent styling. Their icons are always a big mess of randomness, let alone apps from the store, some of those are downright horrible. Can you tell I'm getting bored of the UI on my tablet? lol. Though I can't give up all the google interconnectivity.

RE: Nook rom
By Solandri on 6/26/2013 3:54:22 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, the stock B&N skin is really slick. I wanted to keep it at first, especially since they let you install Google Play and all the apps in the Play store.

But play around with the browser a bit (or install a browser and play around with it). You'll find that it occasionally stutters when scrolling. It's a minor annoyance, but it's consistent and widely reported. I don't really have much of a book library so I decided to nuke it and install CM 10.1 to get rid of the stutter. I'm very happy with this tablet now.

Without nook, BN is a goner
By zephyrprime on 6/26/2013 10:35:47 AM , Rating: 2
It's only a matter of time before paper books fall by the wayside. I don't think BN handled this transition well. They just can't accept that the B&M side of the business is inevitably going to fade away while the digital side takes over. Inside these companies, there are all sorts of politics between the old guard and the new guard. The old guard uses their power against the new guard.

By Wolfpup on 6/26/2013 7:32:22 PM , Rating: 2
I vastly prefer B&N's DRM to Amazon's. The former doesn't require activation, the latter of course does...

But their physical hardware stinks. The "simple touch" models have horrible interfaces, effectively no physical buttons (they do, but they're HORRIBLE to press, rendering them basically worthless)-requiring that you mess with far more distracting touch controls. And they don't have a "flash when changing screens" option like Amazon does.

I WANT to be on B&N, but they don't let me...

IMO the LCD tablet-style readers have been pointless except MAYBE for the first year. $170 or whatever gets you a real tablet from HP, or a Nexus 7 for $200, or an iPad mini for $300. When tablets all cost $500+, then maybe there was room for a drastically cheaper tablet-a-like from Amazon and B&N, but they've made no sense for years now. Amazon seems to try to justify the Fire just by withholding Android versions of some of its programs.

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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