Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Advice To Microsoft

By C.J. West
Author of The End of Marking Time

Last week I was talking to my friend Libby Fischer Hellman about the Microsoft investment in the Nook business. On Libby’s blog, Ruth Harris, Rebecca Crowley, and I join her in penning an open letter to Microsoft on how best to push the Nook business forward.

I want to expand on some of the things Libby and I talked about that could help Microsoft turn the Nook into a viable competitor for Kindle. I think we all agree that a healthy market is a good thing and that Barnes & Noble for whatever reason just doesn’t know how to sell electronic books as well as Amazon.


The most glaring place that Amazon outshines Barnes & Noble is in affiliates. The Amazon Associates program allows anyone to register and then send traffic to Amazon. When a book is purchased, the site referring the traffic is awarded a small commission. Sites like E-Reader News Today, Pixel of Ink, and eReader IQ make a fortune on affiliate links. Because they are rewarded, they send their traffic to Amazon. 

Because of these sites, the community around Amazon is richer and more rewarding for readers and that makes more readers choose a Kindle over a Nook.

Indie Authors

Amazon has embraced indie authors in ways that Barnes & Noble has not. Compare the KDP Select Program and Nook First. KDP Select welcomes everyone. Authors can make their titles free and it is up to them to promote their own free book and find readers. Amazon relies on automation to scale the program and they reward the indie author and the reader with a platform that connects them both. The community (affiliates) also gets in the act because everyone likes free books and there are financial rewards for participation by the affiliates. 

Nook First is Barnes & Noble’s answer. To be admitted an author must submit  an application to a board that reviews selections. B&N will promote accepted books on their website, but the program can never scale the way KDP Select can and it is exclusivity means that the vast majority of authors cannot participate. B&N is excluding thousands of authors who are out hawking their books every single day.

These two programs are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to author relations, but they are representative of the philosophy of each, B&N is stuck in the bestseller mentality and Amazon is embracing the tidal wave of indie authorship.

How can Microsoft help?

Microsoft Word and EPUB

Millions of authors use Microsoft Word to author their books. It is simple to create a PDF file of any work by saving the manuscript as a PDF file. Since Microsoft owns the most popular writing platform, they could really enhance the Nook business by making a simple and powerful conversion product  from Word to EPUB. Formatting books for electronic publication has become a business unto itself. If Microsoft could make it simple to create an EPUB file, authors would be more inclined to publish on Nook. 

I think right now for most authors Kindle is the preferred platform because that is where the readership is. If Microsoft could make publication on Nook easier, they would be able to make some inroads with Kindle only authors. A side bonus to this is that authors could ship their books to (author) friends who have Nooks, so they could read the book comfortably during the review process.

Nook for Windows

Microsoft also owns the most popular desktop operating system giving them access to millions of computer users who are also readers. One of the hurdles to buying electronic books is the cost of the reader.  Amazon has a free e-book reader Kindle for PC. By creating a product with a better user experience than Kindle for PC, Microsoft could sway casual e-book readers to choose Nook books over Kindle books.

Microsoft could and should include this product as an update to every operating system the produce and should make it standard for any new system sold. 

It will be interesting to see what Microsoft’s financial muscle and technical savvy can do to lift the Nook brand. I foresee a heavyweight fight if Microsoft truly embraces digital publishing and takes it to Amazon head on. 

PS.  This week I released Thugbook, my first standalone short story on Click over and dive into a new kind of social network. It's killer.


  1. Great ideas, all of them! It'll be interesting to see what the partnership generates. All writers would love to see an effective conversion tool from Word to epub. Word to mobi would be nice long as we're wishful thinking.

  2. Congratulations on your new release, CJ.

    It sounds to me like the Nook First program is yet another gatekeeper. Is my impression correct?

    I write in Scrivner, and there is an option to convert to ebook format, but I have no idea what that means or how to use it.

    One thing for sure, the staid days of same-old, same-old in publisher are over.

  3. Peg,

    I don't think it is a gatekeeper anymore than Amazon's Editor's Choice program is. The issue really is that B&N doesn't know how to embrace indies and if they cannot, they will fail.

  4. Thanks LJ.

    I think that Word to EPUB and MOBI makes total sense and will come eventually. If Microsoft doesn't do this, they are inviting competition for the hearts and minds of authors.

  5. Another, somewhat over looked advantage to MS and B&N is that MS is about to release Windows 8. Windows * is not just another Windos. It is built to work in exactly the same way across all platforms. Smart Phones, desktops and Tablets. an you say Nook Color Tablet that has the exact interface and commands as a Desktop...and your Smart Phone? B&Ns Tablet, from a hardware stand point is superior to the Kindle. Always has been. It has expandable memory, the ability to cross reading platfoms and you can hook it up to your PC and even exchange Micro memory cards from your PC. yet Kindle delivers the full experience so by having a better user interface it wins, even tho' the hardware is not as technologically advanced. MS can take advantage of that better hardware through their domonance in user interfaces. Also, nnow that MS will be on phones, tablets as well as Desktops, they can push back not only at Amazon in the eReader market, but also against Apple and their iPhone and ibook store. It really positions both MS and B&N to be able to compete and grow market shares in fields they haven't been able to so far.

  6. Thanks Robert!

    Looks like the next two years will be interesting to watch.

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  8. I do think one of the biggest advantages Amazon has over Barnes & Noble--and most companies in general--is the level of customer service they offer. There aren't many who come close, and at least from my experience, B&N is sadly lacking in this area. Microsoft isn't much better. It's not a deal-breaker--I mean, Microsoft is still in business despite this--but it certainly could help when competing with a company known for treating its customers exceptionally well. I think it's one of the things that helped build Amazon and what continues to keep them solid and relevant.

  9. From what I learned via another group of indie publishers, B&N is beginning to welcome the indie authors. At least they didn't turn me down for my Nook First slot when I proposed an indie book that was part of a previously published series. They also don't 'vet' the work, as all they asked was for a short synopsis. But I don't think comparing Nook First to Amazon Select is apples to apples. Nook First isn't really the 'answer' to Amazon Select.

    Having spent most of yesterday formatting my next release for Kindle, Nook & Smashwords, I would definitely like a 'save as' option in Word. I can take my Word file and B&N's PubIt software will generate the epub file, but I found I get a better product by running it through Calibre. For that matter, I get a better product for Kindle by running my file through Calibre as well.

    I'm a NOOK owner, so my bias is to books available to me there. It would be great if readers didn't have to choose.

    (BTW, I'm giving away a NOOK over at my blog)

    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  10. Interesting ideas. I wonder if Microsoft will show any real thought with this investment than they have with others.


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