Having had quite enough of all these knee-cappings and assorted other cripplings at the hands of Amazon, American bookselling chain Barnes & Noble has announced that Microsoft is to invest $300 million in its Nook e-reader and its college textbook arm. The two businesses will form a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble dealing with digital and education, which, given that it’s a collaborative attempt between a bookshop and a company largely responsible for shaping the modern world, feels like it should have a more imaginative name than Newco. The stated aim of the partnership is to ‘accelerate the transition into e-reading’, with Microsoft owning 17.6% of Newco.
Of course, many would point out that the transition into e-reading is accelerating just fine as is, thanks – not least Amazon, which is estimated to hold somewhere around 60% of the e-book market. That’s a tight stranglehold to try to break (and given its standing as a former Navy Seal, Amazon knows a thing or two about tight grips. Did we reach that part in Amazon’s back story yet? Amazon’s totally a former Navy Seal, guys.)
If anyone’s able to give it the old college try though, it makes sense that it would be America’s biggest chain of brick-and-mortar booksellers and a company founded by a man now so comically rich that he should by rights be sitting in a leather chair, swirling a glass of brandy and cackling ‘that’s right, all the orphanages!’ while stubbing out a cigar on his butler. They have enough resources to make a good go of it, is the point.
Microsoft’s display of confidence in Barnes & Noble was at least enough to convince the stock market it’s an idea that’s just crazy enough to work, with shares in Barnes & Noble skyrocketing on Monday morning by 76%, up from $13.68 to $24.09 apiece. This confidence may start to pay dividends when Microsoft begins to roll out Windows 8 with a prominently placed shortcut to a Nook application appearing on the desktop by default, thus capturing the highly lucrative ‘middle-aged technophobe who can’t be bothered shopping around’ market.