Why Barnes & Noble, Inc. (BKS) Can’t Combat the Disruption

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Executives at Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE:BKS) have not had a great start to 2013. After warning on Jan. 2 that holiday sales of its Nook Media division fell 12.6% from the previous year, the company released another ominous memo earlier this month.

Losses in the division will be greater than the previous year, and revenue for the year will fall far below the $3 billion projection the company maintained in the earlier bulletin. While the losses are disappointing, what’s worse is that Barnes & Noble has been unable to capture a significant part of the rapidly growing market that’s disrupting its legacy business.

Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE:BKS)It’s not the products

Going into the holiday season last year, B&N was set to capitalize on the growing number of tablet shoppers. Its newest entrant, the Nook HD, received excellent reviews from nearly every outlet, but failed to make a big splash in the increasingly cluttered tablet market. Buyers preferred options from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Samsung, Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), and the Nook stayed inside those increasingly empty bookstores.

So if B&N has such a great product, the market for the product is growing, and it’s priced to sell, why can’t it move the Nook?

It boils down to one thing: branding.

Where is B&N in consumers’ minds?

When you think of Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE:BKS), what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most, it’s brick and mortar bookstores. The company has failed to position its brand in consumers' minds as an eReader maker or digital content distributor. Instead, it’s associated with a dying breed of retail.

The company has recently announced plans to close approximately 200 stores in the coming years. Up until 2009, the company had been opening more stores than it closed, but that year B&N shifted its investment focus to digital and started working on the Nook.

However, the shift in investment hasn’t been accompanied by a shift in consumers’ mindset. No matter how hard the company is trying, it can’t shake the association with traditional book retailing.

Barnes & Noble is not a tech company

Barnes & Noble now finds itself competing against tech companies like Apple and Google, on top of the already industry-disrupting Amazon. While it offers a nice device, with plenty of great features, consumers are less interested in specs than they used to be.

For example, Apple continues to thrive in the phone market despite consistent criticisms that its iPhone doesn’t offer the newest capabilities. Consumers don’t care. They place their trust in Apple, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Amazon offers extremely similar devices to the Nook with its line of Kindles, and it got off to a 2-year head start. It was able to leverage its position as the largest online retailer, known for books, to create an entirely new way to distribute eBooks. While the retailer doesn’t split out its business segment revenues, it did report that eBook sales increased approximately 70% compared to just 5% for physical books.

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