Barnes and Noble ended weeks of speculation by announcing The Nook, its new ereader that should not only throw a scare into Amazon but also put somewhat of a damper on the ereading capabilities of planned tablets/devices from Apple and Microsoft. Barnes and Noble has addressed many shortcomings of existing devices with The Nook by supporting epub, a major open ebook standard, as well as allowing consumers to loan books to one another. The Nook also supports PDF allowing owners to sideload content such as personal documents. The devices, which will retail for $259, are available for pre-order and are expected to ship at the end of November. The Nook will be available online (at nook.com and barnesandnoble.com) as well as in the company’s more than 700 retail outlets. Barnes and Noble has partnered with AT&T for 3G service for The Nook which was a no-brainer given the retailer recently made a deal with the carrier to provide free WiFi in its retail outlets. The device will default to the Barnes and Noble online bookstore which features more than 1 million titles for purchases and well another 500,000 free titles. Paid subscriptions to magazines from such publishers as Conde Nast and newspapers, including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal will also be available for The Nook. Barnes and Noble is working with a number of enabling partners including Austin, Texas-based Libre Digital who will power many of B&N’s content offerings.
There’s more: the device will have two screens. A top screen, the reading pane, is an e Ink display and will not come with a web browser (E Ink based-browsers offer a notoriously poor web experience). The bottom TFT screen will be a color display and is powered by the Android O/S which, Barnes and Noble says, allows for optimum navigation and user experience in a small space on a mobile device. . The bottom window will be for shopping but also will support Android apps, however any apps that require web access will have to use WiFi support as 3G service is available only for book-related transactions (which keeps bandwidth costs down for B&N). Barnes and Noble will also facilitate synching of all content between The Nook, smartphone apps and Barnes and Noble’s desktop ereading software.
Anyway you slice Barnes and Noble’s announcement, The Nook is a game changer for the current market and one that will force Amazon’s hand even with Amazon’s recent release of an international Kindle. Regarding loaning ebooks you can lend Nook to Nook, as well as Nook to other Barnes & Noble eReader-enabled devices (such as iPhone, iPod touch, select Motorola and Blackberry smartphones, PC and Mac.) Just as with a physical book, the lender will not have access to the book during the two-week period (or earlier if the person you loaned it to returns it sooner). Banres and Noble plans on fully leveraging its retail presence by offering Nook owners special in-store content such as book previews. By encouraging Nook users to browse and shop with their devices in Barnes and Noble stores, these early adopters become product evangelists (not to mention demonstrators).
By supporting e.pub, the International Digital Publishing Forum’s open ereading format, consumers have a wider range of choices than with Amazon’s Kindle which supports Amazon’s proprietary DRM, .azw. with only the Kindle DX supporting PDF. Consumers also can borrow books from public libraries who offer digital lending programs as the vast majority of libraries support .epub and .pdf with their titles.
Because of its rich set of features, retail merchandizing possibilities and open format support, The Nook not only impacts ereaders in the market (Kindle, Sony Reader) it takes some of the luster off of such pending ereaders as Plastic Logic’s Que and the new wireless iRex. The next move in the ereader space belongs to Amazon. That sound you heard was the air being let out of the Kindle’s tires. Amazon is now forced with the decision to be pragmatic and support the open .epub format or risk being locked out of the market.