The company hasn’t announced its plans yet, but it will probably sell the e-reader business or shut it down. Barnes & Noble’s Nook misadventure may look like one of those inexplicable unforced errors businesses make from time to time, like New Coke or the Edsel. But it’s hard to blame Lynch for trying to transform the company. The digital revolution is changing the dynamics of the business. The company had to respond, and it still does. The problem was that [William] Lynch [former CEO] tried to transform the wrong thing.
Barnes & Noble has a history of ill-timed technological decisions. In the 1990s it was focused on beating Borders and didn’t set up its website until 1997, a full two years after Amazon.com went live. It introduced a primitive e-reader too early, in 2001 (on Sept. 11, to make things worse). After Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007, Barnes & Noble needed someone to take control of its destiny and hired Lynch to do just that.
“Barnes & Noble cannot ultimately escape the fate of Blockbuster and Virgin [Megastore]. But they have to make the slide into oblivion more gradual,” says Idea Logical’s Shatzkin. “Does Barnes & Noble have 3 years or 10 years? I don’t know. But it doesn’t have 20 years, that’s for sure. They have to manage their disappearance or turn into something completely different.”
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