Microsoft and the NOOK?

The big ebook news of the past week: Microsoft is investing a lot of money in Barnes and Noble Nook. $300 million and another $305 million in the next decade, to be exact.

How much this will shift the competitive ebook/tablet landscape remains to be seen; from the New York Times: “Microsoft Deal Adds to E-Book Battle” —

“The announcement was the latest surprise in an unpredictable and rapidly shifting e-book market, which is crowded with technology giants trying to chip away at Amazon.com’s dominance. Amazon once had close to 90 percent of the e-book market, but since then, a handful of players, including Apple, Google and now Microsoft, have edged in.”

What does all of this mean? For one thing, it gives the Nook a healthy cash infusion, and forestalls at least some talk of whether the Barnes and Noble stores might go the way of Borders bookstores. The newest Nook Simple Touch has been well-received (more on that, later).

The Nook devices have only existed as Android-powered devices so far, but it seems fairly likely a Windows 8-powered tablet is in the plans. Also worth noting, whether it becomes a thing down the road or not, was the non-exclusivity agreement: “The partnership is not exclusive to Microsoft, meaning that Barnes & Noble can still pursue other alliances with the likes of Google.”

As CNET (“Microsoft’s $300 million gamble on B&N: Hey, why not?”) notes, the Barnes and Noble partnership is, ultimately, just chump change for Microsoft ($17 billion in quarterly earnings) —

“And if the gambit succeeds, Ballmer will look prescient, having found a cheap way into a world currently dominated by Amazon and Apple. If Microsoft fails, it’s a meaningless tax write-off that won’t make a difference to the company’s stock (unlike Barnes & Noble, whose shares rose 52% on the news.)

Microsoft could also use a partner that knows what it’s doing. As Kevin Tofel reminds us, this is not the first time Microsoft has given the e-reading business a try. But big ideas don’t always pan out. Microsoft’s Windows Pocket PC platform for mobile devices debuted on April 19, 2000.”

It’s all speculation at this point, but what might a Windows 8 reader look like?. Also from the New York Times, “With Nook Deal, a Hint of Microsoft Hardware

“There is speculation that Barnes & Noble, as a result of this investment, will create new Nook devices that are based on Windows 8, a coming operating system designed for devices with touch-sensitive screens.

Neither party is confirming those plans.”

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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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