Barnes & Noble: Back in the game!

If you've been busy having a life or something: Microsoft has agreed to invest $300 million into Barnes & Noble's Nook unit in exchange for a 17.6 percent share. Getting a company with deep pockets as an investor will definitely help B&N with the whole running-out-of-cash problem.

And it's a deal with a lot of interesting strategy implications. It will give Microsoft a boost in its efforts to catch up in tablets. A recent investment in B&N by Jana Partners, which also has a stake in McGraw-Hill, could result in a big push into the college e-textbook market (via PV). Microsoft may focus more on generating a content platform that is device-agnostic.

You notice what's not getting talked about here? Traditional bookstores and traditional publishers. Of course the New York Times article features the CEO of B&N reassuring his good buddies in publishing that his company still really, really committed to brick-and-mortar bookstores (the closing of Borders now represents a big opportunity--funny that it didn't before) and that "Publishers are going to like this deal a lot" (because they'll have a lot of choice in the matter--HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA).

(Oh, and Mr. Prosecutor? "'These publishers are completely aligned with Barnes & Noble,' Mr. Lynch said." Clip 'n' save, clip 'n' save.....)

Anyway, my point is that he who pays the piper, calls the tunes, and the company paying the piper over at B&N is now Microsoft. It's not the publishing industry or "literary culture" or what have you--it's a tech company, one of the many tech companies that have looked at e-books and said, Oh! Digital media! I know how to do that!

It's possible that a lot of publishing people are looking at this news and saying, Whew! B&N is saved! Everything will go back to the way it was! But that's not the least bit true--B&N is going to change a lot. Even if the name is the same, the company and its business strategies are going to change a great deal. Will it matter if traditional publishers get upset? No it will not. To Microsoft, traditional publishers are just suppliers of digital media, like movie companies and even app developers are--they don't have this long, exclusive history. And Microsoft has been through the antitrust grinder before, so I doubt they'll be falling all over themselves to make a bunch of special deals to help one particular segment of their supplier population.