Not Hooked on Nook

By Thursday Review staff | Published Wednesday, January 15, 2014 |

Around the holidays, and for weeks afterwards, we hear a lot about the biggest Christmas sellers—those items which seem to fly off the shelves. A few of this year’s big winners were, of all things, books (the ones printed on paper) and winter clothes, such as jackets, sweaters, overcoats. Overall most retailers had a modest year, with sales weak because of a variety of reasons: uncertainty about the economy and jobs, and the Target credit card fiasco, which may have had the unintended effect of suppressing consumer use of credit.

Online sales, however, had their best year yet, with web giant Amazon hitting a new record. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, online sales increased 1.4% in December. Most analysts say the spike in the sale of winter clothes, ones of the biggest in recent history, was the direct result of a chilly December and the impending Polar Vortex. Plus, consumers were not able to contend with the severe conditions to get to the stores, and it was easier to simply shop from home.

The results were a win-some-lose-some for Amazon: it gained millions of new orders, but the surge caused delays, including weather-related problems of delivery.

All of this combined to make clothing the big winner. Consumers demurred on new smart phones, tablets and flat screen TVs, and hoarded thermal boots and insulated jackets instead. Winter clothing became this year’s big winner.

But what about all that stuff that didn’t sell? What about those items on the losing end of the Christmas and holiday totals?

Among the small techie items that suffered weaker sales than expected: the Nook, an e-reader device from bookseller giant Barnes & Noble meant to be the true competitor to Amazon’s popular Kindle reader. Not only did sales of the elegant Nook fail to meet the uptick expectations of Barnes & Noble, sales actually declined substantially. Nook sales fell by over 60% from last year’s total sales. The Nook may have been overproduced and overhyped in general, but the real long term problem will be all those unsold Nooks sitting in storage or stuck on retail shelves.

Some business analysts have noted the strange irony, as this year printed book sales increased—or halted some declines charted in recent years—even as Nook sales fell dramatically.

The good news for after-Christmas shoppers: look for drastic price cuts sometime this spring on specific high tech swag. It’s not a guarantee, but if B&N finally gets around to introducing a newly upgraded Nook, the previous versions of the tablet will become clearance sale fodder.

Thursday Review will have more on the topic of Barnes & Noble, and the demise of the great American bookstore, in the near future.