It's great news for Smashwords authors and publishers. Some publishing industry pundits have poo-pooed B&N's U.K. entry as too little too late. I think the pundits are underestimating Barnes & Noble, and not just because they're flush with $300 million cash from a recent Microsoft investment.
Here's why I think their U.K. launch is compelling: Brick and Mortar Distribution. For day one of their launch, Barnes & Noble amassed a massive network of brick and mortar retail partners that will display, promote and sell the NOOK family of e-reading devices. According to B&N's press release yesterday, their retail network will soon include over 2,500 store locations in the U.K. To put this in perspective, Barnes & Noble operates 689 stores here in the U.S. In the same way that B&N leveraged its U.S. brick and mortar presence to become a powerhouse in U.S. ebook retailing, it's now poised to do the same in the U.K, only this time it's amplified by a broader footprint. The benefit of broad retail footprint is that it makes it easy and non-threatening for prospective customers to touch, feel, test and buy NOOK devices.
Also innovative in their approach is that they're not just merchandising the devices in book stores. One of the new partners they announced yesterday is Asda, a large supermarket chains that will carry the NOOK line in 300 stores. If you assume that most book buyers spend most of their out-of-home time in places other than bookstores, it makes sense to get your devices in front them in as many different outlets as possible. In addition to Adsa, the other retail partners include John Lewis, Argos, Sainsbury’s, Dixons and Waitrose, Blackwell’s and Foyles.
|The Foyles home page prominently promotes NOOK
Earlier this year, B&N was rumored to be courting bookseller Waterstones as its flagship brick and mortar partner. Waterstones has less than 300 stores. Waterstones surprised the industry in May by wedding itself to Amazon instead. At the time, the deal was viewed that as a setback for B&N's U.K. aspirations. In retrospect, the loss now appears inconsequential, and Amazon looks to be the online ebook retailer at a brick and mortar disadvantage.
It will be interesting to see if B&N utilizes the same partner strategy as it enters other countries. I expect it will, and I also expect they'll have an easier time than Amazon signing up retail partners. In a sign that 2013 will likely be a year of rapid international expansion for B&N, the company announced last month they hired Patrick Rouvillois for the new position of Vice President - International. Previously, Rouvillois headed marketing and ecommerce for Carrefour, the world's second largest retailer with 15,000 stores in 30 countries.
Publish Locally, Distribute Globally
The ongoing global expansion of our retail partners to multiple markets means that it's now fast, free and easy for our 50,000+ Smashwords authors and publishers around the world to reach readers that just a couple years ago were impossible to reach with either self-published or traditionally published books.
Also exciting is that markets outside the U.S. (long the world's largest single book market), will begin to dwarf the U.S. market in the aggregate (lots of smaller markets combining to create a single large global market). As I mentioned in my post last week about Apple's iBookstore expansion into 50 countries, Smashwords authors yielded 46% of their iBookstore sales in September (2012) from stores outside the U.S.
The U.S. ebook market has grown exponentially in recent years. In 2007, ebooks represented a mere 1% of the US market. For 2012, ebooks will probably surpass 30%. Despite the growth, the U.S. market is already showing signs of maturing. The exponential growth the US has experienced cannot continue forever. Although there's still much room for growth in the US, gone are the recent years where the market grew over 100% per year.
Not so in the global market, where most countries are now entering the steepest and most exciting periods of their exponential growth phases.
Screens are the New Paper
The competition among ebook retailers is quickly shaping up to be a battle for eyeballs. The eyeball glue is the e-reading device, whether is a dedicate e-reader, a multi-function tablet, or a smart phone. The ebook retailer who puts their devices in the most hands will become the dominant ebook seller of tomorrow. The major device makers, drawn from conventional booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon, consumer electronics manufacturers such as Apple and Sony, and online-booksellers such as Kobo, are all battling it out in the marketplace to get their devices into consumer hands.
Each operates their own ebook store, and for most of them, their store is tethered to their device so that the quickest, most convenient path (and sometimes the only path) to book discovery and purchase is through their own store. This is why B&N's broad-based brick and mortar strategy for getting its devices into the hands of readers is so compelling, and why I think B&N is likely to be successful in its endeavor. It also means that B&N's entry into each market is likely to accelerate the growth of that market, rather than just steal customers from existing players, because B&N will reach customers not reached by the other ebook players. To the extent B&N is successful, there will be more readers for Smashwords books.
If your book is already distributed by Smashwords to Barnes & Noble, there's nothing you need to do to get your book distributed into their U.K. Nook store.
If you're new to ebooks, visit our How to Publish with Smashwords page to learn just how fast, free and easy it is to reach a global audience with Smashwords as your ebook distribution partner.