NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Barnes & Noble's
(BKS - Get Report) struggle to get a toehold in the eBooks trade is an open book.
Even with the bookseller's shares up 12% this year compared to a 0.5% decline for the S&P 500, its Nook e-reader tablet has not been the bestseller it wanted.
Why did it take that plunge?
Long ago there were various notions of what a future tablet might be like, one being the 1994 Knight-Ridder concept video. The thinking was that if some company -- besides Apple (AAPL) -- had the right vision, money and technical capacity, we might have seen the newspaper and book industry seize the initiative (in a different timeline) and dominate the tablet industry today.
But the development of that kind of technology requires enormous technical expertise and billions of dollars. The companies that made their money in ways other than print had the vision and capacity to build our modern tablets. For Apple, it was the Macintosh and iPhone. For Amazon (AMZN), it was its enormous inroads into Internet commerce. For Google (GOOG), it was the intention to have a reference platform (the Nexus) to showcase the best of Android.
Barnes & Noble wanted its own platform for the modern, headlong rush into eBooks. The thinking was that if the delivery of books was to move from print to tablets, the company must have a tablet of its own.
That tablet, because it would be designed to be a storefront into B&N's wares, need not be a general purpose tablet like the Apple iPad or the Google Nexus. After all, the idea wasn't to promote the sale of, say, Amazon's books for a Kindle app running on a Nook tablet.
That thinking turned out to be a mistake.For example, Apple is a hardware company and makes almost all of its profits from selling hardware. Its notable operating systems, OS X and iOS, are free, along with its productivity suite, iWork, in order to sell hardware. That's why it doesn't make sense for Apple to make its eBook app, called iBooks, available for other tablets. Apple is not in the book business but the company sells books to promote its hardware.