What Went Wrong? The Story of the Nook

As a reflection assignment for my DesignLab Academy program I investing why Barnes & Noble’s Nook failed to be the next great thing.


Released in 2009 as the next great e-reader, Barnes and Noble’s Nook quickly faced opposition. What caused plummeting sales of an e-reader created by the retailer?

Photo courtesy of time.com

Technology has changed the way we do everything. We are constantly linked to a device of some kind, and as technology continues to change and expand, the greater our screen time becomes. So, it was no surprise books would make the shift from paper to screen. The largest brick and mortar book retailer wanted to be on the cusp of change, and thus the Nook was born.

What went wrong?

  1. Marketing

Barnes and Noble did not market the product properly to set it up for success. It was a challenge for customers to get beyond the book store mindset. There was confusion as to what B&N was attempting to be. And, they took people from the store to create the development team; folks that were not experienced in how to develop and launch a product. These first missteps did not allow for a successful introduction of the device and a brand for it was not created from the ground.

This issue only compounded when, in 2014, the company partnered with Samsung and released in 2014. The device was what appeared to be a Galaxy tablet. No where on the device was Nook or branding. The only way you recognized Nook was during app downloads and searches. The identity of the device was lost in the partnership.

2. Functionality

The first Nook had a version which allowed for you to jump on WiFi and connect with 3G data services. They eventually came out with a color version. However, during this time competitors were launching tablets like Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the Samsung Galaxy and the more expensive Apple iPad. The Kindle was much more cost-effective and cost almost half what the Nook’s $349 price point.

Kindle Fire

There was no App Store, and in a time when Apps were blowing up on any device and platform you could get your hands on, Nook fell flat on it’s face by missing the boat on the trend, which is now essential for existence. They did eventually add the app store, but there were very few applications available. Even apps like OverDrive and Adobe Read were not available, which are core to the main function of the device. B&N simple underestimated the tech savvy intelligence of their customers, and customers took notice to that.

3. Customer Experience

Even though in 2010 Barnes & Noble received positive customer feedback, by 2012, customers experience seemingly did a 180. Many reported that they would never go to the retailer to shop again. Not only did the in-store experience lack, online and product experience was terrible, too.

In 2011, the company fixed a glitch that allowed people to download apps from other providers. You were no longer able to go to the web and download an app for your Nook. While this seems like a genius approach to ensure purchase of your own apps, it doesn’t work if you are not set up to provide the apps on your own platform. You just make people mad.

New models of the device contained less memory, making it impossible to download an entire ebook. When the basic function of your product is to read a book, and you take that away, it causes quite the commotion. People were also not able to download purchases on other devices, so this compounded the frustration and made it pretty simple for customers to go elsewhere.

In recent news, B&N has announced closure of the UK store and the app store. You will be converted to Sainsbury’s Digital Entertainment On Demand store, where you will need to set up an account. These factors in addition to the other blunders I have discussed will likely cause the few Nook users to pack up and make the move to Amazon.

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