Putting aside my instincts to avoid writing about rumor (oops. I have said that before), an overwhelming number of published reports indicate that book retailer Barnes and Noble is about to launch an ereader, joining the parade of devices that includes the Kindle, Sony’s family of products and devices soon to launch (Irex), hyped to launch (Plastic Logic) and rumored to launch (The Apptab). Naturally, one would ask why. Why indeed given B&N’s recent announced deal with Irex in that it would be the default online bookstore for the new device.
Playing the speculation game, here are some thoughts:
*Barnes and Noble is launching a device because it wants to flex its bricks and mortar book retailing muscles by having a device it can sell in its more than 770 retail stores in the U.S. and Canada giving it first-mover advantage in that area. B&N circa 2009 is as much a lifestyle shop (complete with Starbucks coffee bar, comfy chairs, Muzak 2.0 and WiFi) as a bookstore, so it may be a suitable early-adopter environment to peddle a gizmo that most consumers have not even seen. No matter how powerful and global Amazon’s aspirations are, they remain solely an online merchant and an ebook reader just may be the sort of device that has to be seen to be sold.
*Barnes and Noble is trying to to gain additional traction for the .pdb book format is supports. That’s a bit of a long shot because no other devices other than the upcoming Irex support that format. It is possible, but not likely, that B&N will announce .epub support with its new device.
*Barnes and Noble, in offering a wireless device allegedly powered by Android will somehow bring Google to the ebook device wars just as a number of carriers (T-Mobile) and handset manufacturers (Motorola) have in the cell phone space. What would that mean? Certainly it could be a preemptive shot at Apple whose Apptab is not slated for release until Q1 2010 thus missing the 2009 holiday retail rush.
Also worth pondering is which carrier would join B&N to power its new device (which has received FCC approval)? I believe the smart money is on Verizon who would love to counter AT&T’s win with Amazon in being the carrier of choice for its new international Kindle.
This is one rumor that, if brought to fruition, will benefit consumers. The new B&N device will almost certainly be priced lower than any Kindle and perhaps even lower than Sony’s $199 ereader. B&N may be able to take a major hit on the device if it can use it to 1) provide uplift in sales in its retail stores 2) bundle a book club with the gadget 3) get some cost and channel support from a wireless carrier partner.
All of this speculation is interesting save for the .pdb support. If the new B&N device offers a format that is not supported by any other fixed device (I tried putting a B&N download on my format agnostic Astak EZReader and was foiled) then perhaps we’re right back where we started. A device Tower of Babel that is reminiscent of beta vs VHS.