By Simon Hill, dealnews contributor
We are often told that competition in the consumer electronics space is good for us, but what happens when an ecosystem that you have invested in goes out of business? With Barnes & Noble's eReader sales having hit a standstill (Amazon dominates the marketplace with its Kindle line) and many people skipping eReaders altogether in favor of tablets like the iPad mini, 24/7 Wall Street officially awarded the Barnes & Noble NOOK second place in its list of brands that will disappear in 2014.
The NOOK's slump hasn't happened overnight, though. Microsoft invested $300 million in NOOK over a year ago, and has pumped in more cash since then, in hopes of competing with Amazon. Rumors have also been whispered that Microsoft might buy out the NOOK division, though this notion was quashed by "a highly placed source inside Microsoft" according to Insider Monkey.
With sales dipping and prices dropping, the NOOK brand definitely looks to be in trouble. Yesterday's news that Barnes & Noble has stopped supporting desktop NOOK apps only contributes to this theory, although TechCrunch believes it implies the bookseller is walking away from the eBook market, not its hardware. Either way, NOOK owners may be concerned about what this means for their library of B&N eBook purchases, so here's what you can do to protect them.
Should You Jump Ship Before It's Too Late?
Some NOOK owners may want to prepare for the worst, though it's very unlikely that NOOK will disappear overnight. If the service were shuttered, it's most likely that Barnes & Noble would provide support for a set period of time thereafter. That said, the company revealed yesterday that it will no longer support its desktop apps, and instead users will be redirected to a browser-based version that isn't actually usable for all its eBooks.
Therefore, while you have the chance, why not at least download the applicable mobile NOOK app for Android or iOS. Just keep in mind that even if these apps continue to work indefinitely, they likely won't see any updates in the future and thus might not be compatible with OS upgrades.
Backup Your NOOK Library
In case your NOOK dies, it's smart to have a backup library of your eBooks. If you access the NOOK client or app on another device (like your desktop or laptop), then you can download your book collection for offline reading. Plus, having a backup copy means that if the cloud service disappears in the future and the NOOK software is no longer supported, you will be able to access the books you bought.
Convert Your NOOK Books
Unfortunately when it comes to keeping copies of your NOOK eBooks or transferring them to other devices, the waters are considerably muddied by digital rights management, or DRM. Take a look at an individual book in the NOOK store, and you'll see on the right a note that says, "Available on NOOK devices and apps," followed by a question mark. Tap on the question mark to get a full list of the devices that you can download that book onto; many books are restricted, and it's generally illegal to remove DRM.
Usually free works and classics that are out of copyright are DRM-free, and they can easily be converted for reading on a Kindle or other eReader or device without the need for the NOOK app. The most popular software for converting eBooks to different formats is Calibre, and it's completely free to use. It's also very easy to maneuver, but you'll find video tutorials on the website in case you run into trouble.
But for most of your eBook collection, DRM restrictions apply. There is a plug-in available for Calibre that allows you to remove the DRM from eBooks, but it's technically illegal to do so. Thus, if you want to walk the straight and narrow, you may find that your DRM books will be outright unplayable on other devices outside of the NOOK app.
What About My NOOK Device?
If you're worried that your NOOK itself will become an expensive paperweight, there's no need; you can still use it as an eReader without the NOOK service. To access non-NOOK content, you can sideload books from other sources by downloading them onto your computer. If they aren't in the .epub format, then use Calibre to convert them.
Then, plug in your NOOK to your computer using the USB cable; you should see your NOOK appear in Windows as a drive letter with "NOOK" next to it. You'll find a My Documents folder on your NOOK and that's where you should drag and drop books from your computer. Right click on the NOOK on your computer to eject it and then go to your My Documents folder on your NOOK and choose "Check for new content." You could also do this using a micro SD card with an SD card adapter.
If you're willing to get a little more technical, you can sideload apps like the Kindle app onto your NOOK and utilize the Amazon marketplace for buying new books. This sideloading guide at Liliputing runs through the process for the NOOK tablet.
Your final option is to actually root your NOOK. This will transform it into an Android tablet and allow you to install more apps through the Amazon App Store or Google Play. It will also allow you to acquire new books using the Kindle app, Play Books, or any of the other services that are available via Android apps. Here's a Lifehacker guide to rooting the NOOK Simple Touch. Keep in mind that this will void your warranty, so proceed with caution. If you do decide to root, then make sure you find the right instructions for your model and software version, and follow them to the letter.