Will Barnes & Noble Break E-Reader Price Barrier?

Bookseller Barnes & Noble appears to be readying its own e-reader, due to go on sale as early as next month. The new model could help e-readers become the hot gift this holiday, but prices still need to come down.

Even with this week's price cut, the Kindle, at $259, still seems expensive. Will B&N beat Amazon's price and turn e-readers into mainstream devices? It just might.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the new B&N device would have a touch screen and virtual keyboard. Pricing was not disclosed and the bookseller refused comment on the e-reader rumor.

In July, B&N introduced an online e-book store, claiming some 700,000 titles that can be read on a variety of devices, including the iPhone. B&N is also the exclusive content provider for the Plastic Logic e-reader, due next year.

Gizmodo reports that the new e-reader is powered by Google's Android operating system.

The device supposedly has a 6-inch screen, using E-Ink technology, and will offer wireless downloads, according to media reports.

On Tuesday, Amazon lowered the price of its rival Kindle e-reader by $40, to $259 and said it would be offered for sale in 100 countries. The Kindle now costs $100 less than when it was introduced.

Consumer electrics giant Best Buy said this week it will begin selling Sony e-readers, which start at $199. The devices are expected to go on sale this weekend.

The B&N e-reader rumor appeared as the company was announcing sales drops and that it expects to take a loss during the current quarter, ending Oct. 31.

My take: B&N is in a good position to market e-readers, with the content distribution infrastructure already in place. Its storefronts will expose many people to the devices who have read about the Kindle, but have never actually touched one. If its device is a good one, it will generate sales for B&N, though it is hard to imagine they will offset the continued softness in its business.

The key for big sales this holiday is for e-readers to fall below the $200 price barrier. Throw in a couple of books and the devices will seem like a good value. Unless Apple (unexpectedly) gets its tablet out in time for Christmas, e-readers could be the hot item this year.

I have avoided purchasing a Kindle, mostly based on price and the availability of content I am interested in. I do not find $259 very interesting and the $199 Sony device is not interesting, even though the price is better.

However, a next-generation e-reader at $199 could become this year's holiday gift. It is not clear B&N will hit that magic price, but we can all hope. I would like to start reading books electronically.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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