Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

The Nook Doesn’t Need the Cloud. The Nook Needs the Cloud. Discuss.

If you buy the new Nook Tablet, you won’t have to depend on the Cloud to get all the media you love.

Except when you have to use to the Cloud to get all the media you love.

Confused? Not surprising. Barnes & Noble’s messaging around the Nook, which launched today, is a bit muddled. But let me try to spell it out for you:

Unlike Amazon and its Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble isn’t marketing its tablet with a proprietary cloud service that will get you access to music, movies and TV shows. Instead, the bookseller is leaving that up to other cloud-based services, like Netflix and Pandora.

But make no mistake — these are cloud-based services. Which means you’re almost always going to need an Internet connection to make them work.

And while Barnes & Noble is playing up the fact that its tablet comes with twice the storage capacity of the Kindle Fire, it doesn’t really think you’ll use that storage for music and video.

That is: You can “sideload” media you own onto the Nook from your PC or another device. But the company doesn’t think you will. It thinks you’ll stream your stuff instead.

In order to move movies and TV shows on the gadget, for instance, you wouldn’t be able to use any digital video you bought from Amazon or Apple. Instead you’d have to get your hands on unencrypted MP4 video files, or something similar. And if you know what that means, or how to do it, you’re not the Nook’s target audience.*

And while it’s possible to move music from your iTunes collection onto the machine, B&N doesn’t think you will do that, either.

Here’s a transcript of the brief exchange I had with B&N CEO William Lynch after his press conference, because I wanted to make sure I understood the company’s take:

Peter Kafka: Do you expect regular users to move media from their device to a Nook, or do you think most of them are going to get music and movies via Pandora and Netflix?

William Lynch: Probably more of the latter. Just because they have most of their libraries … I mean, you have a level of sophisticated user that does the former. But as I said, if you look at Netflix, they have 30 million [sic] subscribers..

Kafka: Right. And if I have music on iTunes, can I move it onto the Nook?

Lynch: You can take your MP3 and MP4 players …

Kafka: So I can convert it to an MP3, and move it …

Lynch: And move it, sideload it.

Kafka: OK. So it’s not really a mainstream use. You expect most people to stream music and movies to the device.

Lynch: That’s right.

After this conversation I triple-checked with B&N’s PR reps, who tell me that customers shouldn’t have to convert iTunes files, because most of them will already be in DRM-free AAC format. But the fact that the company’s CEO thinks they won’t want to sideload anyway is the real takeaway.

[UPDATE: Subscription music service Rhapsody, which will work with the Nook Tablet, tells me users will be able to cache some songs for offline play, so the storage capacity could put to use there. I've asked MOG, another Nook-compatible subscription service, if they're doing offering the same thing.]

There’s nothing wrong with that approach, theoretically. But if you’re not going to store movies on the device, then B&N shouldn’t argue that you could watch 5 HD movies on a long airplane flight, on a single charge, since you wouldn’t have any way of actually getting them (good luck streaming HD movies on airplane wireless). And it shouldn’t tell us that we could watch up to nine hours of video on the machine with wireless off, for the same reason.

It’s also a bit odd for B&N to play up its access to Netflix and Pandora, since those are two of the four apps that Amazon all but promised it would have on the Fire. (To be fair to B&N, it is also offering access to Hulu Plus, and Amazon hasn’t said boo about that.) And again — those are cloud-based services, which means they ought to be careful about reminding us that “people aren’t always connected to the Cloud,” which they did repeatedly throughout their press conference.

Product claims aside, the real story behind the mixed messaging seems to be that B&N still fundamentally views the Nook as a reading device which will let you read the stuff it sells. And you will be able to store lots of that stuff on the Nook, which means you won’t need Internet access to get it.

Digital books, magazines, etc., are a $65 billion to $70 billion market, Lynch said during his press conference. And that’s plenty for him for the time being: “We’re not going to launch something where we don’t think we can add material value just to get into the game.”

Reasonable enough. But Jeff Bezos and company are very much in that game. And if Lynch decides he wants to play later, he’ll have to play catch-up.

*B&N’s target audience is a woman with 2.3 kids, Lynch said after the event. So at the risk of perpetuating a stereotype, I’m going to assume that the advice a B&N rep gave me today — to rip a DRM-free MP4 from a DVD, then port it to the tablet — isn’t the one it’s going to bring up very often in its marketing materials.


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