Ebookery: Google Buying Barnes & Noble? Why Not?

Before we begin, go read this article from a few months back by GigaOM’s Mike Wolf.  Go on. I’ll wait.

Finished? Good.

Mike is absolutely right. Google should buy Barnes & Noble. And lest the European Union get a bee in its bonnet about competition, it needs to think of this: Content is what Barnes & Noble does best. Google does not do content. It just serves it up via its search engine. Oh, Android is a terrific operating system, but it’s too fragmented. In an age where Amazon is replacing the ereader with full-blown tablet on Google’s Android OS, producing a generic version of Android to be used wherever will not work the way Windows works for Microsoft.

Of course, Microsoft kept a tight grip on Windows. Want to run our operating system? Here are the rules. And in the case of Windows 7 and the forthcoming Windows 8, if you want to play, you have to supply drivers. (Yes, Vista is just as much HP and Dell’s fault is is it Steve Ballmer’s.) Google placed no such restrictions on Android, and more’s the pity.

But the Android genie is out of the bottle, and now the platform is fragmenting. Good for Google in terms of licensing. Bad in terms of relevance.

Yes, Jim, but what does this have to do with ebooks?

Glad you asked that. Unlike one bitter former midlister’s irresponsible rant to basically get out of Amazon’s way, I don’t see Amazon as invincible. Oh, sure, I’ll do business with them. I like Kindle. I own one of the old school units and have the Kindle app on all my PC’s and my phone (An Android, where Kindle nestles with Angry Birds. I’m never bored on the john.) They’ve been snubbed by Barnes & Noble and by Books-A-Million in the print market. Stupid? No, Amazon will need more than it’s own stores to thrive in real space, since print is clearly not going away any time soon. (Sorry, bitter former midlister.) But Barnes & Noble is bleeding. If it is to be saved, it will be through technology. Google can provide that technological muscle. It’s revenue model can also take some of the retail pressure off the brick-and-mortar stores and their online outlet. And it would even the playing field. Sooner or later, bookstores will have to carry Amazon titles. It would be better if they could dictate terms of their own to get a deal.

More importantly, Google bought Motorola. With a hardware arm now and an R&D approach that makes Microsoft look like Commodore Computer, Google needs only a ready-made content arm to jumpstart its attempts to sell books and music. Even with its current problems, Barnes & Noble is better positioned to deliver. Plus the combination of Motorola and Google will allow Nook to innovate, possibly even exceed the capabilities of Amazon. And as I said before, Google’s revenue model may make the Nook a less expensive alternative to Kindle. After all, Google is unobtrusive in their advertising.

So where does that leave Apple and Microsoft? Apple is going nowhere. It has the iPhone/iPad platform. It has Mac and the iCloud. It’s an ecosystem designed and built by Steve Jobs and maintained by people he personally trained. Microsoft? Windows, especially Windows 8, could easily eclipse Android and the iPad, but they’ll need new management.

Kind of like Barnes & Noble needs. Google has it.

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