Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

B&N and Microsoft: the newest alliance of Bibliotech Land


On April 30, 2012, a press release echoed through the skies of the publishing world like a choir of angels, piercing through the miasma of gloom felt by many in the wake of the recent DOJ ruling. Barnes & Noble and Microsoft have joined forces.

Publisher’s Weekly summarizes the partnership:

Barnes & Noble, which analysts believe needs deeper financial pockets and a global presence to compete in the digital reading space with Amazon and Apple, solved both of those issues Monday morning, creating a new subsidiary in partnership with Microsoft. The new unit, temporarily named Newco, will house B&N’s digital assets, as well as its college stores, and will be backed by a $300 million investment from Microsoft that will give the tech company a 17.8% stake in Newco.

For the past several months after the winter holiday season, I’ve been fighting the niggling dread that beloved Barnes & Noble would go the way of the dinosaur, otherwise known as the way of Borders. But this last piece of news has infused my book-lover’s heart with greater faith in its survival.

Yet at the same time, mere “survival” is not enough to stay afloat in the roiling market. I’m inclined to refer to a memorable lesson given by the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. “It takes all the running you can do,” says the Queen. “To keep in the same place.”

Manifesting itself in the field of evolutionary biology as the Red Queen Principle, the hypothesis states that “for an evolutionary system, continuing development is needed just in order to maintain its fitness relative to the systems it is co-evolving with.” The key phrase being continuing development.

If we set this principle as a lens through which to view the current changes, I feel that it syncs nicely with the current dynamics of what I clumsily call “Bibliotech Land”–the technology-infused, socially networked, digitally enhanced, and multi-platformed chimera the world of publishing is quickly morphing into. The economic predators of that world have taken to evolving as fast as their technology permits. Sharper screens. Color e-paper and e-ink. Faster Internet. Lighter devices. New accessories. More choices. Social reading capabilities.

Within this context, B&N’s alliance with tech power Microsoft is one step in the right direction if the goal is to take on both Amazon and Apple. Publisher’s Weekly clarifies that the B&N assets included in this Newco agreement are the Nook devices, online bookstore, e-content publishing, as well as the college-related activities, including college bookstores.

Will this become a game changer? Nothing left to do but wait and see, but it seems that this move is also hinting at a focus on enhanced ebooks. Now that Microsoft has its fingers (and R&D teams) in the pot, we might end up witnessing an upsurge in high quality, innovative, and reasonably priced enhanced ebooks within the next few years.

“[Microsoft president Andy] Lees said Microsoft is interested in both developing new ways people read in both the consumer and education areas,” Publisher’s Weekly reported. “He said Microsoft will be more than just a “platform provider” and intends to work with B&N to find ways to add value to content. Lees said Newco will help blur the lines between different types of content.”

One comment on “B&N and Microsoft: the newest alliance of Bibliotech Land

  1. Erica Hartnett
    May 9, 2012

    I’m really interested to see how this pans out, and it will be really exciting if they can do something innovative in the ebook arena. That said, I think it’s interesting that they temporarily coined the venture “Newco.” I wonder if it gives the wrong impression of being a little too hasty. I’d love to know what they’ll end up calling it for real. Guess we’ll find out soon!

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This entry was posted on May 9, 2012 by in Business, Technology and tagged , , , .

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