Barnes_And_Noble_f96aBarnes & Noble introduced its foray into the nascent eBook market, called the nook. Like Amazon.com’s Kindle, the nook sports technology from Cambridge, Massachusetts’ E Ink, a company that worked on its technology for a decade before it became profitable and the darling of many technology firms. The interesting thing about the nook is that it sports some industry firsts, including:

  • A color touch screen for navigation purposes
  • Allows owners to “digitally lend” nooks to friends and family in a feature called LendMe, free of charge for up to 14 days, to another nook, iPhone or iPod Touch, select BlackBerry and Motorola smart phones, and PCs and Macs
  • Support WiFi as well as free AT&T’s mobile broadband service
  • Supports instore-browsing of not just book excerpts (ala Amazaon.com) but entire books themselves via Barnesandnobles.com’s catalog of over one million eBooks, newspapers and magazines
  • Allows you to read chapters on iPhones, PCs and Macs if you happen to forget your nook at home
  • Based on the Android OS

nook features a much more sleek and contoured design than Amazon.com’s Kindle, and is about the size and weight of a paperback book, but thin like a netbook or small ultraportable laptop. It uses E Ink’s Vizplex non-glare display and is without backlight. The secondary color display for navigation purposes allows you to browse through cover art and illustrations via touch commands. Content can also be accessed via a virtual keyboard. From a connection perspective, eBooks can be downloaded at AT&T’s complimentary WiFi hotspots, including those at B&N’s retail stores, or on the carriers’ 3G wireless network.

The nook sports enough storage for up to 1,500 eBooks with standard memory, and up to 17,500 eBooks if you use a 16GB MicroSD card. It’s software also supports native PDFs, photos, and custom screensavers. Further design features include a removable back cover, personalized in four colors, and accessories including cases from noted designers.

Barnes&Noble is pricing its eBook title bestsellers and new releases at just $9.99. This is close to the cost of hardcopy versions that are now found at retailers such as Walmart. In addition to book titles, the nook supports subscriptions to more than 20 newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the LA Times, as well as subscriptions to a wide array of magazines.

From a retail merchandising perspective, the nook will be prominently displayed at high-volume Barnes & Noble stores as well as 17 College bookstores. B&N will also have in-retail store sales staff to help demonstrate the nook, support purchases, demonstrate eReader apps, browsing and actual downloads. The nook will be available at the end of November, priced at $259.  The company is taking pre-orders now on its website as well as in its key retail stores. The first 10,000 nooks sold will be pre-ordered withAa free copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” I think that Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” though, would have been more of a coup for B&N and to drive more consumer sales.

Like Amazon.com’s Kindle, B&N’s nook is based on a reverse subsidization model compared to mobile phones, where the service is subsidized while the consumer pays for the hardware cost, additional content, and the service and connectivity is free. nook is also a better designed eBook reader and is clearly primed to be a key holiday shopping gift. Many electronics retailers have been anticipating a big ebook push for the upcoming holiday season from a merchandising perspective at the front of the store , as there are few other new product categories to drive consumers into stores thid holiday season. But the nook will be exclusive to B&N stores and Barnesand noble.com, while the Kindle will be exclusive to Amazon.com. This leaves Sony’s ebook reader and a few other brands to the only ones pushed at big box retail. So do your homework first!

nook clearly raises the competitive stakes among eBook readers, and I expect B&N to have a limited production run, making nook a hard to find holiday gift. The question is how big can this market grow to with two major book suppliers, a major CE brand, and a handful of Asian tier two and tier three brands in the market over the next year? Especially in a bearish market. If other major CE brands appear in this category, they will need to provide compelling content, a great UI, and also subsidize much if not all of the service cost, as well as offer an attractive hardware cost and the portability of more forms of . I can already see ebook readers at sub $200 price points, especially if they don’t sell as expected over the US holiday season. Other brands will also need to score exclusive content deals with leading authors, not only at launch, but perhaps extended over several  years, to drive converts from the printed from, as well as current and future readerships. For improved content solutions. They will also need to provide easy transport of content to multiple platforms such as Windows 7, Snow Leopard, Windows 7, OX-10, older PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPods, smart phones and feature phones (but the OSes may not be able to support the content at decent refresh speeds).

eBook readers because of a lack of standards when it comes to the various eNook readers on the market today, will have portability problems. Still, it’s another success story for local Massachusetts E Ink, which has waited for years to see its technology prosper and drive real revenues.Hopefully it will bear long awaited fruit.

GadgetLand also had a decent take on the nook.

– update as of Friday October, 23rd.

Apparently the LendMe feature only allows you to extend the lend for one 14-day period per book, and only once! And the book publisher must grant permission for the lend. During the lend period, you  are also unable to read the book yourself. So the devil is in the details I guess!

For comparison purposes, here are the other two eReader platforms:

Sony eBook- Courtesy Sony

Sony eBook- Courtesy Sony

The Kindle- Source Amazon.com

The Kindle- Source Amazon.com

Disclaimer-

My wife is a Barnes & Noble customer club member until November 30, 2009

-Randy Giusto

randygiusto@newdigitalcafe.com