You've got to feel for Barnes & Noble.
The printed volumes peddled by the mega-bookseller, quite possibly the only major one still standing in the U.S., are under assault from the digital realm. And its Nook e-reader device can't seem to deliver a fatal blow to either Amazon's popular Kindle or Apple's dominant iPad.
The company needs sales—whether bound or byte—to stem the losses in revenue it continues to experience, even during the holiday season.
This morning, B&N introduced its latest ploy: a weekends-only, two-for-one sale for its e-books, the so-called "Nook Books." Beginning May 4 "and running every Saturday and Sunday thereafter," customers can buy one book from a list of 20 bestselling titles and select a second for free.
The catch? It's in-store only. Yes, that's right: you need to visit a brick-and-mortar store to enjoy the special.
To be fair, there are 677 largely enjoyable B&N stores in the U.S., and the list of books isn't bad at all: Yann Martel's The Life of Pi, Tina Fey's Bossypants and Matthew Quick's The Silver Linings Playbook all make the initial cut.
But the move clearly bucks convention. Why would you visit a brick-and-mortar store to load up your electronic library? To buy a real, ink-and-pulp version or two, I presume the bookseller hopes. (Perhaps some Godiva chocolate, too.)
B&N says the list will change weekly; this refresh rate should help preserve continued interest and repeat purchases, much like your favorite local restaurant's ever-changing "special." (Please, try the fish.) But the flow to redeem the special is a somewhat backwards: visit a physical store, puchase an electronic book, receive access codes for purchased and free books on your printed store receipt, go home and redeem them.
(To test this, I asked my wife a moment ago: "Would you go to a physical bookstore to buy an e-book?" She replied: "No. Why would I do that?")
All this has me scratching my head and wondering: what is Barnes & Noble's true goal with such a promotion? Does the retailer want to boost sales of its electronic wares, or physical ones? And if both, why complicate it so much? Better to sell your physical stores on the basis of experience (events, atmosphere, everything but the book) than on the commodity that's slowly killing them.
The buy-one, get-one sale has been proven effective for many, many years. Implemented here, it shows a company that is still valiantly trying to defend its old ways, even as it engages in new ones.