Barnes & Noble debuts 'two-for-one' e-book weekends

Barnes & Noble debuts 'two-for-one' e-book weekends

Summary: Buy one "Nook Book," get one free -- but only in brick-and-mortar stores. Can you smell the desperation?


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.

Topics: E-Commerce, Education

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • The Art of Racing In the Rain

    is not what you might thinks it is. They say don't judge a book by it's cover and this is certainly a good example. Even non-race fans will find it a great read.
  • They are totally wasting their advantages.

    I would simply offer a significant discount on ebooks with the purchase of the same physical book. 50% off of the ebook at the time of purchase for the same physical item would get me to come into a store. If this offer is declined at check out, add a coupon code for 30% off of the ebook if purchased via their online store within the next 30 days. I'm sure that will help to get people into their stores. Heck, I'd only buy my comics from Barnes & Noble if they did something like that.
  • We don't visit the stores anymore

    I can see where they are going. I used to LOVE the bookstore. My daughter and I would go in, pick out some desirable books or magazines, grab a table, have some lunch or dessert or coffee... Now we both have Nooks and we rarely go to the bookstore anymore. B&N is trying to invite their loyal Nook Customers back into their stores and let them know that they still have something to offer. And while I look through the selection of 20 available books for my free purchase, I may sit and have a slice of cheesecake and a cup of coffee. And maybe grab a new magazine or a birthday gift or a tin of tea on the way out. It's a good idea. And honestly, we would be devastated if they went they way of Borders and all of the other great bookstores. We would be willing to help them keep the wonderful bookstore and all that it offers alive.
  • I still love looking through books at a large book store!

    Also love using my Kobo E-reader but sadly we don't have any local book stores! 8-(
  • I'm still curious as to why E-books are as expensive as paper?

    I love going to the bookstore. It's wonderful place to relax, look at differnt books/subjects. I would rather pay to have a physical book. And I do buy many.

    I'm lost as to why e-books are as expensive as their new counterparts? The Ebooks don't require paper, ink, storage for both ink and paper, box suppliers, packagers,warehouses, warehouse staff, city/state tax and those cities that benefit from that money, shipping expenses, receiving warehouses, recieving warehouse staff, customer service reps to handle shipping questions, city/state tax and those cities that benefit from that money, brick and mortar sales/rental space revenue, brick and mortar management, store clerks, store cleaning crews, store security, the money they would spend to increase the economy, the money they would pay city/state/federal taxes on.

    With all that taken away, why are E-books $1 or $2 at the most?
    • Simple really

      They have taken a leave out of the Apple handbook. "Maximum Profit" (or any company for that matter.
      You can get some good buys, also plenty of Free Ebooks. Also the latest e books I have been buying is out of print Sci Fi books. Still you have to keep a close eye on prices. I still buy books from the book depository and New releases are often same price for Ebooks and paper back. If that's the case then I'm buying the Paperback. 8-)
  • Physical stores...

    Around me, Barnes & Noble's physical stores have pretty much become toy stores, fronts for the Nook readers, and stores for bookish items like fancy leather bound journals and elaborate bookends.

    I feel for Barnes & Noble. It's difficult to see how they survive long term. And I cringe at the idea of Amazon (or anyone else) having a monopoly on eBook sales (that's why I buy Nook books when I buy ebooks). But I also remember when the behemoth Barnes & Noble drove all the mom and pop bookstores out of business. It's a dog eat dog world out there.
  • I had a Nook

    I have a brick now! After 4 months of poor performance, it bricked on me. I won't be getting another. I will be getting an iPad. Its the old story - buy cheap and pay twice as much.