B&N's Nook, e-Reader For The Masses

Barnes & Noble's new Nook e-reader has a simple task: Win over the die-hard tree killers. The Nook must convince e-book skeptics that this is the time to start moving from Gutenberg to gigabytes.

The device itself, introduced yesterday, will do a lot of the work. The Nook is gorgeous, as our slide show demonstrates. I'd rather see a $199 price--or $50 in free books included with every $259 purchase--but the lower pricing will arrive, perhaps next year.

The Nook is exciting in ways Amazon's Kindle 2 e-reader, the previous device to beat, fails to ignite people's interest. For me, the Nook is a Kindle killer and I think the market will react the same way.

Why?

Snazzier design -- The color multi-touch screen, below the main reading screen, helps solve the "dull and uninteresting" display problem that Kindle suffers. There are other important differences, but this is the most outstanding. Overall, the Nook is just a better spec-ed device. But, we will have to see how production units compare to our imaginations.

Brick-and-Mortar -- Yes, all those storefronts may someday be the death of B&N. In the meantime, however, the ubiquitous B&N at the mall makes it easy for people to try-and-buy a Nook. And, when you return to the store, the Nook uses special software to detect the store network and display coupons and content appropriate to your visit.

Enough "There" for the Masses -- Yes, the Nook has "enough there there" to be interesting. It crosses the line between consumer electronics curiosity and mainstream device. It also drags the Kindle 2 over the line with it, though the next devices to watch are likely to be from Sony.

Android -- Most people won't care which OS their e-readers run, but the choice of Google's Android makes the Nook hackable and opens the door to third-party applications.

The "Loan" Feature -- This is the big win, the ability for Nook users to loan books they own to other Nook users, as well as to Mac, PC, BlackBerry, iPhone, and iPod touch users.

Will the Nook convince people to start switching from paper books to e-books? It will be slow and never complete. Well, "never" anytime soon. But, the Kindle started to process and the Nook will accelerate it.

The New York Times, quoting a publishing consultant, says about 945,000 Amazon Kindle e-readers have been sold, as well as about 525,000 Sony devices.

That sounds like 1.5 million total devices, but something makes me think that at least half those units were upgrades or replacements, so maybe 700,000 customers exist. Of whom, maybe half use their e-reader on a weekly basis.

While that is a guess on my part, I suspect an estimate of 350,000 frequent e-reader users is right and may even be a stretch.

It won't happen before Christmas, but B&N could sell a significant number of Nooks over the next 12 months. I suspect the upgrade cycle will eventually become every Oct.-Nov., for holiday sales.

With a million e-books to sell, 500,000 to give away (courtesy of Google), a snazzy device, and a great way to get it in front of customers, B&N has advantages that Amazon lacks.

When people get a Nook in their hands and start reading in the stores, I expect many will find the Nook to their liking and make a purchase, even if the price is still too high for a truly mass market to develop.

I have avoided e-readers until now--call me a dead-tree snob--but what I know about the Nook today makes me a likely purchaser next month, when the device arrives at the B&N in local mall.

Goodbye, Gutenberg and hello, gigabytes!

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

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