I remember first hearing about them coming to town in the mid 90’s. I was so excited. A BIG bookstore, even if they were a chain, was finally coming to Fargo and we could finally, maybe, get some more diverse choices in books. Sure there was a B.Dalton in the mall, but you could hardly turn around in there without bumping into something. The one little independent bookstore down town had even less selection than the B.Dalton did. When Barnes & Noble first opened I was ecstatic. Lots of space, tons of books, long hours, and the people seemed friendly and helpful. I spent a lot of time in the store. I got a membership for the added deals.

When MediaPlay opened down the street I was once again in heaven. While MediaPlay had a bigger selection of movies, games and music, their book section was pretty good as well. But, B&N was still where I hung out the most. The little independent bookstore downtown closed with little fanfare. Eventually, the used bookstore did as well. Then MediaPlay hit hard times and closed too. This left just two bookstores in town (not including the Christian bookstores), B&N and a little used bookstore across the street. Of course, now the B&N in town is cluttered up with a bunch of games.

When I first started looking at eReaders I checked out the details and the reviews of several. I went and looked at the offerings at Best Buy to see which one looked and felt the best in my hands. Eventually I settled on B&N’s Nook Simple Touch which had just come out. My wife bought it for me for Father’s Day.

There were a lot of things I liked about the NST.

  • lightweight
  • small size
  • long battery life
  • eInk screen
  • ability to tap, swipe or use physical buttons to turn a page
  • microSD card slot for expandable storage
  • a social DRM so that my family/friends could share eBooks if we liked
  • epub format, giving the ability to shop other vendors
  • LendMe program to share selected books with friends

There was also the fact that there were computer apps, Nook-for-PC or Nook-for-Mac, and NookStudy, which allowed us to back up (most) of our eBook ‘purchases’. Considering all the problems various companies have had with their servers, or just going out of business this sounded like a great idea. The ‘Terms and Conditions’ in the legal section of the NST even suggests backing up all content. Then they added the ability to read from the web page and to download directly from the library on the webpage. Things were looking up. Over the years most of this has sadly changed. The things that had enticed me into the Nook garden have been crippled and taken away while B&N has raised the height of its walls in their garden.

My wife and I share an account. It’s just easier for us that way and it’s worked well. I leave her eBooks active on the account until she’s done reading them (on her NT or HD) and then she archives them. I archive my eBooks and sideload them onto my microSD card in my NST (or NSTG). She see’s her eBooks and eMags on her devices and I’ve got access to all my stuff on mine.

I understand why a company would like to lock it’s customers into using only their products. But, I think it’s a short sighted practice. Apple and Amazon have done well with their walled gardens, but most companies don’t seem to be able to provide the services and products buyers want at a price they are willing to spend (Sony Betamax anyone?) so utilizing industry standard formats tends to work better. Sure, B&N tried putting out their own app store after the NookColor first came out, but only a couple of years later, shortly after the NookHD was released they caved and opened up the device to the GooglePlay store. They still have their own app store, but unless you’ve got an NC or NT it would make more sense to utilize GooglePlay. Their devices allowed for the sideloading of ADE DRMed epubs, making them the most open of devices. And their social DRM allowed people to share their NookBooks with other Nook users as long as they were willing to share the unlock key (Account name and Credit Card number on account when downloaded).

But, I don’t think the people running the Nook division ever really understood readers. Readers talk about what they are reading with other readers. They share books. That’s how they find new books/authors. Sure, a lot of them check out reviews and some just grab whatever off the shelf. But it seems most readers find their next book/author from talking to other readers. I had hope for a few years that B&N would figure this out and fix the few minor issues they had with their devices/software. There were opportunities, they almost had the vision. But they never quite seemed to get it together.

LendMe was crippled from the beginning. It required participation by the publishers, so the number of eBooks in the program was limited. And if a novel took off and became popular, like The Hunger Games, that participation might get revoked. Plus, you could only lend the eBook one time. Period. Not one time a month, or one time a year, but once in a lifetime. Did I mention readers share books and get their friends hooked on a series or author? This was more the fault of the publishers, but when you cripple something from the beginning it’s just not going to take off.

The issues with the software, like partition size and the lack of a decent shelving feature never got addressed. Other things like a searchable dictionary did eventually come about. But in order to get the updated dictionary you had to also accept the crippling of other aspects of the software, like loss of page numbers in the Table of Contents and adding a stupid ‘push n and swipe to unlock’ banner to all the screen savers. Trust me, if you can figure out how to put your own pictures on the device for a screensaver you’ve probably used it enough to figure out how to unlock the device. The wishlists are unique to each device instead of communicating with the website, so they are fairly useless as well.

About a year ago the ability to download directly from the B&N website was removed, supposedly because of piracy concerns. OK, not a great decision in my opinion because that isn’t going to stop pirates at all, but I could live with it. There were still other ways to back up and sideload your NookBooks. Then last fall Nook-for-PC and NookStudy quit working on my WinXP and Win7 computers. It still seems to be working for some people on some machines, but not everyone. I can still get Nook-for-PC to work on my Win8.1 machine. After months with no resolution I resigned myself to utilizing a greasemonkey script added onto my Firefox browser in order to backup my eLibrary.

The last iteration of eInk devices B&N put out removed the physical buttons and the microSD card slot, which are two things I utilize all the time. Even though they increased the onboard memory of the device, they still have it partitioned so that I would only be able to get a small fraction of my 1500+ eBooks on. I read in bed a lot with one hand so I’m constantly using the physical buttons.

DRM is something imposed by the publishers on the eBook vendors. But B&N had the best option out there. It was easy to share amongst friends/family. You just had to sideload it and unlock it for them (or if you trusted them, give them the info to do it). Starting at the beginning of March B&N seems to have changed its DRM scheme. This has resulted in the inability to unlock sideloaded NookBooks on my microSD card in my NST. Luckily this change only affected two eBooks, and both of those were free. But, beyond that it removes the ability of readers to share their NookBooks with their friends and family. Did I mention readers share their books with other readers, yet?

That was basically the last straw. I can’t utilize my device the way it was advertised to me when I got it. There’s no point in trying to get Nook-for-PC or NookStudy working again if I can’t sideload them onto my device or into another program to read them. LendMe is pretty much a useless program because of the limited library available and the insane limitations imposed on it by the publishers. I’ve avoided updating the firmware on my original NST because page numbers in the ToC are more useful to me than the updated dictionary and I don’t really need instructions on how to unlock the device. I don’t even connect my NST or NSTG to wifi anymore because it seems whenever they update the firmware they end up breaking other functionality and I don’t want to take the chance.

As Michael Kozlowski over at GoodeReader said “Barnes and Noble really wants to lock down their customers into exclusively using their tablets, e-readers or apps. They want everyone to depend on the cloud to store purchased content and download it at a later date.” And that just isn’t a wise move for consumers, especially those that have watched company after company shut down. Almost all of my purchases are made through GooglePlay.  Unless the eBooks is DRM free I’ve no reason to buy from B&N anymore. And if they are DRM free, I’m probably buying them from Baen or Phoenix Pick anyway. All of my eLibrary is backed up and “future proofed” for the day when my Nooks need to be replaced. For those interested in making sure your eLibrary is available on other devices in the future I suggest you do an internet search for Apprentice Alf and his DRM tools.

You had me excited at the beginning B&N, but your actively denying me the use of my Nooks and eBooks as they were originally sold to me has driven me into the arms of other vendors for my reading entertainment. Instead of locking me down as a customer you’ve lost me as one. Hopefully your preferred customer, ‘Julie‘ can keep you afloat, because I’m not buying much of anything from you anymore.