Barnes & Noble Aims to Take Down Kindle, by Hook or by Nook

It doesn’t matter whether Amazon’s Kindle has 60 percent market share, or that Sony has its powerful brand backing its Reader. Barnes & Noble wants in on the nascent e-reader market.

Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader

The Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader
(click image to enlarge)

For reasons not apparent at press time, Barnes & Noble is calling its new electronic reading device the Nook, officially launching it during a late-afternoon Eastern time press event Tuesday in New York City. A Wednesday conference call was scheduled for media, but plenty of Nook information had already leaked out before the Tuesday afternoon event via a Gizmodo report last week, a Tuesday morning Wall Street Journal story — and Barnes and Noble’s own Web site, which went live with images and details about the Nook several hours prior to the press event.

Those details make it clear that the real-world bookseller, with more than 700 physical locations in the U.S. and an online store, is making a serious attempt to dethrone the Kindle as the early e-reader market leader. What’s also clear is that the entire e-reader market is getting as crowded as the Stephen King section in a Barnes & Noble.

The Nook’s Details

Starting at the end of November, the Nook will sell for US$259 — same price as the domestic-only Kindle. Like Amazon’s device, the Nook features instant wireless downloads of books, newspapers and magazines. The Nook will use AT&T’s 3G network for its over-the-air downloads, similar to the Kindle’s Whispernet service, which uses the Sprint network.

Both devices store about 1,500 books and are about eight inches long and five inches wide. Both take advantage of a wide selection of books available for download — Amazon touts 350,000 books, while B&N says it will have “1 million” choices, but appears to be including newspapers and magazines in that number.

The similarities end there. Barnes & Noble has added a color touchscreen section to the bottom portion of the device’s face. Most of the upper portion supports 16-level grayscale e-ink, but the 3.5 inch touchscreen section enables navigation, browsing and flipping through book cover art.

Another key difference: the LendMe technology that allows users to lend the books they’ve downloaded to anyone else who is using another Nook, or is using Barnes and Noble’s e-reader software on a smartphone, PC or Mac. The “borrowed” books disappear after 14 days. The Nook can also access Barnes & Noble WiFi hotspots in stores for downloads and browsing.

“They definitely did not want to come out with a Kindle clone,” Frost and Sullivan digital media analyst Mukul Krishna told TechNewsWorld. “They have added something with the multi-touch color display and sharing books — that is all good. And they kept the price point at a level that gives them some wiggle room during the holiday season, when they are trying to grab market share.”

Hurdling the Kindle

“Barnes & Noble is playing catch-up here,” said Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, who pegs Kindle’s share of the market at 60 percent. “Everyone has been waiting for them to make a move.”

Indeed, B&N has spent most of 2009 making various acquisitions and building the foundation for an e-book business. “So to make up for lost time, B&N is offering a device with more features at the same price as a Kindle. They really do see Amazon as their competition,” despite the Sony Reader and forthcoming devices from other manufacturers.

However, the consumer’s willingness to give up the smell and feel of hardcovers and trade paperbacks remains the biggest obstacle, Rotman Epps added. “It’s certainly an attractive product for the price. Consumers have a lot of curiosity about the devices, but a lot of uncertainty. Our research shows 40 percent have heard of but never seen an e-reader device. There’s a lot of education to be done before consumers are fully swayed to buy one,” Rotman Epps told TechNewsWorld.

An August research report from NPD also highlights the difficulties Amazon, Sony and now Barnes & Noble will face with book lovers. Consumers like the idea of instant downloads and being able to stuff a lot of reading material into a single device, wrote Ross Rubin, NPD director of industry analysis. However, they still love the idea of holding a book in their hands. “Today’s e-reader offerings are delivering capabilities that are in demand by consumers,” Rubin wrote. “However, some features that could enhance the appeal of more popular content, such as color, remain on the drawing board. Consumers may overlook their attachment to a book’s tactile attributes, particularly for reading materials where timeliness and convenience takes precedence over leisure.”

Reading the Competitive Landscape

While the Nook does have some color screen functionality, it’s unclear whether it will be enough to engage users that are already seeing bright shades on their iPhones or iPod touches. Those devices are also a part of the e-reader competitive landcape, not just Amazon’s and Sony’s products, Krishna said.

“They’re not only fighting for consumers against the Kindle and other e-readers, they’re fighting for dollars that people have saved up for various other consumer electronics items, including gaming consoles and portable media players,” Krishna explained. “It will be interesting to see how these companies will market these devices, because it’s been an older demographic of late” that’s been buying e-readers, he added.

3 Comments

  • Thirdparasite – I have a Sony Reader Touch edition, and it does exactly what you want – you can highlight text and export to PC or Mac up to 100 characters per highlight (fair use). You can also underline and circle things, write notes on the "page", and bookmark / dog ear pages. Add the ability to check out library e-books + expandable memory + reads any format — I don’t understand how the Sony Reader doesn’t blow the others out of the water.

  • Quick aside to previous post – a friend tells me you can scan a Kindle much like a hardcopy. I haven’t seen it done, but have no reason to doubt him.

    As for eBooks and readers, my feelings are mixed but negative at the moment.

    – Nook’s ability to ‘lend’ out books increases my interest considerably.

    – I like the idea of being able to carry many books in a small package for trips, etc. At the moment I have to carry (or buy along the way) one book per 3 days of travel and that takes up quite a bit of room, especially on the way home. (I never throw away and rarely give away books I like. The others go to the library. My wife hates bookshelves, but I love books.)

    – I have read on a Kindle and it seems good enough to enjoy. Reading on my pc screen is not fun for anything longer than news and I can’t imagine trying to read on a smartphone. I use reading glasses and detest the small screens.

    – Prices are WAY too high for books I can’t lend, pass on, or give to the library. Nook partially addresses this with the 14 day loan feature.

    I have cut back on buying new books starting when the paperback prices went above $5, further when they went above $7 and have virtually stopped since they are now $9 or more. For someone who used to purchase an average of 10-12 books per month this is painful.

    I would get interested in Nook at $3 per book and Kindle at $1 per book (the 14 day loan bit accounts for the difference). Don’t care if I can’t get them for a few months after release.

    – Color would be nice, but not critical except for some textbooks and references.

    – Finally, B&N has a lot of work to do on their website to encourage me that they have anything on eBook that I care to read.

    * no way to sort by format (a book on 5 CDs doesn’t seem accessible to an eBook reader)

    * titles appear to be very limited compared to Amazon (and Amazon has some under my price point)

    * titles that interest me seem virtually non-existent (Hard SF, Mystery, Thrillers (techy spy stuff), computer and internet, some textbooks, science, some non-fiction)

    B&N needs a much better search experience. (See Amazon or Apple iPhone App store)

    So, perhaps someday I will find the case for eReaders compelling, but definitely not today.

    I will just have to stick with used book stores and the library.

    Besides I have never ‘broken’ a book by falling asleep and dropping it or rolling over on it. Doubt if any eBook reader is anywhere near as indestructible.

  • As a Kindle owner and early adopter with over 90 paid books, I will be eagerly watching to see who adds the functionality to allow me to efficiently extract portions of text for use on my computer via Word documents, presentations, etc..

    As a debate coach and professional in a field that requires extensive consultation and reading of texts, the Kindle has been a source of enjoyment an endless frustration given that all citations have to be copied by hand. When cutting debate cards, for instance, this can result in hours of rekeying. A paper book can easily be thrown atop the scanner and OCR’ed, with about 5% the manual effort (mostly associated with formatting the text). I’d suggest a function like bookmarking in the Kindle, except one that allows me to start and finish the "extract text" functionality and move it to my PC via USB (e.g. extract text saves to a folder on the device called Extracts/ with files consisting of dumps of all extracted sections from a specific text). Permit up to the maximum allowable under Fair Use provisions (e.g. 10%) per document.

    Whoever provides this capacity under Fair Use provisions of copyright law will likely see a significant surge. Remember who your heavy use market is and understand how they use your product in carrying out their occupation. As much as I’ve committed to Kindle, I will switch to whoever has this function first given its savings of my time. Remember, a digital product needs to give the consumer more time and cost benefit, not less. Paper books are much easier to integrate for fair use purposes today.

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