Microsoft's $300 million investment in B&N's digital business is about more than ebooks. Much more. Or at least I hope so. Success in this venture will not be measured by sales of ebooks. Microsoft should instead use this as an opportunity to create an end-to-end consumer experience that rivals Apple's and has the advertising income potential to make Google jealous. But how will that happen by investing in the distant #2 player in the ereader space?
Microsoft has spent billions over the years as it repositions itself from the makers of Windows and Office into a much broader brand. They've done a good job as Microsoft is one of the most recognized brands on the planet. But is it really considered a consumer brand like Coke or (wait for it) Apple? Even though they've built an amazing customer base with Xbox and the innovative Kinect accessory, I'd say the answer to that question is "no."
Barnes & Noble isn't exactly up there with Coke or Apple, but the B&N brand conjures up other images Microsoft could benefit from (e.g., trusted in-person retailer, growing digital content retailer and even a place where you can get answers to your questions about nooks and books). The initial investment with B&N is about the .com world, but who says the larger relationship has to be online-only?