The imminent demise of the Nook — and the importance of DRM-free eComics
First of all, let’s counteract some of the clickbait. Barnes & Noble has not given its users a March 15th deadline for backing up their eBooks. To put it accurately, they are discontinuing support for third-party apps. Here’s the story:
“While we remain committed to providing a great digital reading experience to our customers, we are exploring all opportunities to reduce costs.”
That’s the sound of Barnes and Noble CEO Ron Boire sounding the retreat from the firm’s ill-advised venture into competing with Amazon’s Kindle with its own NOOK e-reader.
While his comments are simply reflective of an ongoing shift away by the firm from its digital disappointment, what is interesting is how many actions are now being taken to achieve this. Boire states bluntly:
“Our first priority is to significantly improve NOOK performance. During the third quarter, we reduced NOOK expenses by $25 million and recently took additional action to exit NOOK’s app and video businesses that will result in additional cost savings…we are actively engaged in exploring a number of alternatives to materially reduce NOOK’s expense structure.”
Of course, you’re seeing this bandied about on Facebook as if Nook users are going to lose everything they purchased on their device.
The eWriting is on the Wall
But let’s face it. The Nook was never a strong contender, and it’s not going to recover a significant market share to merit Barnes & Noble’s continued investment. It’s going away — and most likely, soon.
What will happen next? Well, one option is to look to what happened when the PDA market (most notably, the Palm) was sunk by tablets. Fictionwise was the top eBook seller to that market. When Fictionwise folded, it migrated all of its eBook content to the Nook library. (Barnes & Noble had bought Fictionwise a few years earlier.)
So — with an audience this large — it’s reasonable to assume that Nook’s termination will result in the purchases made by Nook customers would migrate to a competitor. For example, a Nook user’s purchases might migrate to a Kindle account. Which is great.
If you own a Kindle.
What does this mean to webcomics?
Simple. A growing number of readers are going to find out the difference between purchasing an eBook (or eComic) and paying for access to one. In other words, they’re going to learn the true value of DRM-free content.
DRM (Digital Rights Management) is the reason you don’t actually own anything you buy through certain retailers (the Kindle Store, ComiXology, Nook, etc.). You’re actually paying a one-time fee to access it. But you can’t (without a certain amount of hoop-jumping) simply transfer that eBook to a friend the same way you might with a physical book.
And many of us webcartoonists do an awful lot of DRM-free business. In other words, we sell files (usually PDF) directly to our readers. And they have access to those files for as long as they wish. Of course, the bad news is that DRM-free content is super-easy to pirate.
But the good news is that those files remain in our readers’ position regardless of the state of the cartoonist’s individual business. If I close down shop tomorrow, all of the DRM-free content I’ve sold will remain the property of the people I sold it to (and a few I didn’t!).
And, as products such as the Nook fold, that’s going to sound better and better to more and more potential readers.