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B&N's Nook...and Beyond

Nook_angle viewThe big news in e-readers last week was B&N's announcement of their upcoming Nook device.  My first reaction was "meh", but the more I think about it, the more potential I see...not necessarily for the Nook, but rather for the e-reader space.

Let's start with the Nook features I find interesting:

3G Wireless and Wifi -- I blogged about this long ago and have often wondered why Amazon didn't bother offering wifi with the Kindle.  Some said it would be redundant with Whispernet.  I say nonsense, particularly since I use wifi every day with my iPhone 3GS.

Exclusive In-Store Content -- Another smart move, and a way for B&N to encourage Nook owners into their brick-and-mortar outlets.  I'm not sure how successful this will be but it's something Amazon simply can't do.  And if it words, an increase in in-store foot traffic is always a good thing.

eBook Sharing -- Also known as the "LendMe" feature, it's far from perfect but at least it's a first step towards one of the chief complaints about ebooks.

SD Slot -- I have a first-gen Kindle with an SD slot and I use the card all the time.  I still don't understand why Amazon dumped it with Kindle 2.  I ran out of device memory long ago on my Kindle 1 and if you own a Kindle 2 you will too at some point.

Free eBook with Pre-order -- Sometimes it's the little things that matter.  In this case, B&N gives you a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point when you pre-order a Nook.  Won't that be nice knowing that your device will show up with a great book already on it?  And from the publisher's point of view, if you haven't already read The Tipping Point, it will be an introduction to the genius of Gladwell and a chance that you'll want to buy one of his other books.

You may have noticed that I didn't mention the color navigation touch-screen at the bottom of the Nook.  How could I overlook that?  Well, it seems like a bit of a gimmick, but this is the feature that got me thinking.

Without access to an actual Nook (they don't ship till later next month) it's impossible for me to say what this color touchscreen will allow you to do (other than browse a virtual bookshelf).  I'd like to think B&N has additional plans for this area, but we'll have to see.  For example, will B&N open the device up to third-party developers, just like Apple has with the iPhone (and Amazon hasn't with the Kindle)?  Think of all the types of apps that could be developed for this display, not to mention the eInk display itself.  Some would also say they don't need apps for their reader, that they bought it for reading and nothing else.  Gee, before the iPhone we were all pretty content making calls and sending text messages.  It's funny how sometimes you don't know what you want till it's invented.  (It also reminds me of Henry Ford's famous quote about how if he would have asked people what they wanted they would have said "faster horses.")

That would be cool, but let's take that idea one step further.  Why doesn't someone come out with a stripped-down eInk display device with a slot for iPhone connection?  The eInk display wouldn't need 3G/wifi or some of the other features the Kindle, Sony, etc., have.  Make it bare-bones so that it can be sold for under $100.  Then either include a collapsible slot where an iPhone can slide in or just connect it via USB or Bluetooth.  Then you'd use the iPhone for all your purchases/downloads with no connectivity required from the reading device itself.

I've been wanting to have my cake and eat it too with an e-reader.  The combination of a stripped-down eInk device and my iPhone would be perfect.  I'd get the apps, extensibility and connectivity of the iPhone along with the easy-on-the-eyes and insanely long battery life features of eInk.  And, if the eInk device could really be priced below $100 it would make the Kindle sales total look like a rounding error!


Kayelle Allen

Thank you for the overview of Nook. As an eBook author with multiple titles, I'm always excited by advances in ways for readers to access my work. The lending feature is a good way to discover new authors, but also denies those authors any royalties. The trade off is the possibility of readers falling in love with characters and series, and buying copies of other eBooks for themselves. Some publishers may disallow the lend feature, just as many disallow printing or read-aloud features on standard PDF files. Whether Nook's lend feature will increase overall sales remains to be seen. Authors of eBooks fight online piracy by teaming up to warn each other when titles are spotted on pirate download sites. No doubt, author fears and hopes will determine publisher decisions as well as public response and eBook sales. Thoughtful article, well written. Thank you for considering Nook's impact on the industry.

Ryan Biggs

Exclusive in-store content may be a good business move for B&N's Nook, but ultimately I think this sort of thing is bad for publishers, authors, and readers. I have the same concern with the music business, where iTunes exlusive releases are a big deal and another reason to buy your digital music player from Apple.

How is it good when an author (or musician) must target different audiences according to what hardware they own? How is it good for consumers when one can no longer simply purchase the best device, but must also consider what exclusive content is available on that device? What if a small upstart company comes out with the best eBook reader device on the planet, built around open standards, so you are not tied to buying content from their store? That should be good for consumers. But it's not, because owning this device means that they no longer have access to any exclusive content.

The music industry, through their inaction and failure to innovate, has basically handed over their entire business to a hardware manufacturer - Apple. I think publishers should be wary of any ebook technology that rises to dominate the market through exclusivity strategies.

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