Barnes & Noble, the nation’s largest physical book retailer, is following up its November 2009 release of the Nook, an e-ink e-reader, with the NOOKcolor, a device that uses a 7-inch LCD/LED screen to display books, newspapers, magazines and a few additional services such as Pandora. The device is scheduled to be available on November 19th and will retail for $249. NOOKcolor uses WiFi to harvest content. It will be built on the Android 2.1 platform which means it will not be able to run Flash, but as the device’s OS is updated, Flash support is likely. The device will not have access to the Android Marketplace at launch. NOOKcolor will support Adobe’s DRM which means it’s likely to continue to allow download of e-books from public libraries.
William Lynch, Barnes & Noble CEO calls the NOOKcolor “a reader’s tablet,” and from advanced word, he appears to have nailed it. From its description, the device aims for all three reading segments: book, newspapers and magazines. It adds periodicals to the mix by offering color and browser support and overcomes the tablet-reading shortcoming of excessive glare. As Martha Stewart said at Adobe Max, reading Martha Stewart Living on the iPad is great on an airplane “when they dim the lights.” Lynch says B&N has invested in screen technology that reduces device glare.
Other notable features is 8GB of onboard memory and a built-in social experience that extends B&N’s booking lending capabilities to a richer platform that integrates with popular social networks. This comes at a time when the publishing industry is intently focused on social commerce—the role of book recommendation’s from one’s social graph leading to transactions. Nook Color will also offer Quickoffice, a mobile productivity suite. It will not support e-mail clients but obviously will allow consumers to utilize webmail services.
B&N is also offering a Nook Developer SDK with the intent of inspiring developers to create enhanced book application such as adding video to cookbooks and travel books. Enhanced books, to date, has been an elusive, poorly defined category for publishers hoping to bring to market differentiated reading experience for which they can charge a premium. An area of low-hanging fruit for value add is children’s books, to wit B&N is launching Nook Kids, a platform aimed at facilitating value-added features of children’s books such as animation, “read to me” applications and games.
Many, myself included, questioned a retailer’s entry into the e-reading device scrum believing it would not have the technology chops to build and stay ahead of the digital reading device space. Not only is the Nook one of the best (if not the best) e-ink devices on the market, by expanding its offering to include a tablet reader with broader publishing distribution opportunities, Barnes & Noble may have elevated themselves to the head of the class. The NOOKcolor, based on its specs, offers the color and rich flexibility of a tablet blended with the reading experience of the gen one e-ink readers. Let’s not forget that B&N operates a large number of college bookstore as well as Nook Study, a platform for e-textbook reading which could make the Nook Color the go-to device for e-textbooks
So what’s the market impact? I would say that Apple’s iPad suffers a blow as a digital publishing distributor competing head-to-head with a tablet reading device from a major bookseller. Apple has not exactly endeared themselves to publishers with its lack of Flash support (although NOOKcolor won’t support Flash at launch) as well as its policy of not sharing consumer data with publishers and its reported entry price to be part of the iAds program.
The newer tablets en route such as the Samsung Galaxy and Blackberry Playbook will be scrambling to capitalize on their publishing opportunities and the Kindle…well… Amazon’s not saying but it’s safe to say, the company has something up its sleeve and the smart money is on a color tablet device. When? What will be the cool features? Amazon may know, but mums the word
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