Category: design

Only a schnook would buy a Nook now

They say that it’s hard for a company to shrink to greatness, but I do think that it’s possible to simplify to greatness. There’s been some moves in the e-reader world lately that raise the question, shrink or simplify.

Sony, the first mover in the dedicated e-reader world, recently announced that they will no longer make dedicated e-reading devices.

Beleaguered Barnes & Noble has arranged to separate the Nook e-reader and tablet business from the core retail book business. Interestingly, the new Nook division will also contain the campus bookstore business.

The proximate cause of both moves is pretty obvious: Amazon’s scorched-earth total disregard for profit in favor of growth and share strategy, and the cheap and innovative Kindle devices that it has spawned. Some also blame the iPad but I draw a distinction between the general-purpose tablet world (in which devices not called “iPad” are commodity) and the dedicated e-reader world where the key assets are a large and competitively priced book catalog and winning device design.

too low to power on

Sony never had a chance because they never had the bookstore. Barnes and Noble should have had a shot for the same reason, but they just couldn’t keep it together and fell behind in the hardware race. Maybe this is why Sony is giving up on the market while B&N is clinging to some kind of hope to either make it work or sell it off.

I wanted Barnes and Noble to win this one because I thought they had the brand and the following among people who read. Plus, I was annoyed with Amazon over text justification. Amazon started as a bookstore but has become so much more and in the process lost a clear connection to the reading public. But in the eyes of an independent bookstore lover, B&N is just as bad as Amazon. The e-reader for such folks is the seldom-mentioned Kobo, the indie darling despite being owned by ginormous ecommerce conglomerate Rakutan.

So B&N finds itself stuck in a vanishing middle. Indie readers won’t touch them because they’re corporate, so they lost that ground. Tablet buyers have no reason to buy a Nook tablet over a Nexus, a Fire, an iPad or a dozen other cheap imitators (including some from Sony and Kobo, btw). The stuff that e-ink reader devices differentiate on – battery life, screen resolution, frontlighting, weight and feel – are all done as well or better by Kindles and Kobos. And worst of all, Amazon wins the ebook price battle as often as not.

My advice to Barnes and Noble? It’s hard to say and harder to do, but it’s time to take this product line on a long walk in the woods. Drop the tablet business entirely, focus on the software for generic mobile devices, and recognize the e-reader for what it is: a loss-leader to sell more ebooks, which means it has to get priced way down, possibly to zero. It’s razors and blades, folks. Sharpen what’s sharp and don’t get tangled up in the rest.

If all it took to succeed in hardware was a big catalog of media, you’d see Netflix tablets and Hulu TVs all over the place. Even NPR’s cobranded internet radio didn’t turn many heads. Maybe the knob was weak.

Cat Pants Fever

Got old pants? Who doesn’t? Why not turn them into cat pants?

Cat pants.

Black and white cats agree, you can’t beat organic catnip-filled genuine upcycled denim cat pants. For lounging or mauling, they’re just what the cat daddy ordered.

Cat pants!!

Take any old underutilized jeans, cut off a leg just below the knee, make one more cut about 3/4 the way up the middle through both layers (higher if your cat prefers low-rise cat pants), stuff and stitch and you’ve got cat pants. A jaunty ribbon belt is appreciated by some. I recommend Blue Sky Farms organic Rhode Island catnip.

The Futon District Grows Thinner

Today I noticed two more casualties along the mid-Cambridge furniture district, the stretch of Mass Ave between Central and Harvard formerly known as the Futon District. One was no surprise, but the other was, at least to me, shocking and even a little sad.

City Schemes

First up, or rather, first down, City Schemes. After looking empty of customers for years and throwing up giant SALE banners to no obvious effect, the Mass Ave showroom is now empty, but City Schemes continue to peddle European style to metrosexual bachelors and James Bond villains from their Somerville warehouse.

Crate and Barrel

Second, Crate and Barrel has closed their second and last remaining Cambridge location after 37 years. I must admit, though I always wished for a CB2 instead, I was a little sad to see the last nearby C&B go. Now you’ll have to go to Boston or Burlington, or more likely the internets, to shop your friends’ commitment ceremony registries. At least you can slake your Marimekko thirst at their shop in Huron Village without crossing the river or the beltway.

Five years ago I surveyed the furniture landscape on this strip and worried it was going away. Well, we never did get that IKEA in Somerville, but furniture retail continues to take a beating here in the 02139.

Crappy Feng Shui

I’ve noticed a troubling design trend of late. In a distressing and it seems growing number of bathrooms, there are mirrors on the wall or door directly opposite the toilet. I get it, bathrooms are small, mirrors make small spaces look and feel larger, but who really thinks this placement is a good idea?

Who thought this was a good idea??

As it turns out, Feng Shui practitioners do, at least some of them. According to Sally Painter, you can mitigate the negative effect of a poorly placed bathroom (for example, too close to the front door, typical in hotel rooms and small apartments) with these steps:

Hang a full length mirror on the inside of the bathroom door.

Place a mirror directly opposite the toilet.

Minimize the powerful negative effects of a toilet – Place fresh flowers or a bowl of pebbles on the tank lid. If this isn’t possible, hang a shelf over the tank lid to hold the flowers or bowl.

I wouldn’t want to underestimate the “powerful negative effects of a toilet,” but it’s also hard to overstate the powerful negative effect of looking yourself in the eye in the mirror while you’re on the throne.

Hoteliers, designers, apartment therapists: can we please agree not to put mirrors opposite the toilet? Feng shui be damned, nobody needs to watch themself poop.