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The Nook is Genius



NookBarnes & Noble, I have to hand it to you. I’ve been watching eReaders with great interest, not for myself, but for my wife who is an avid dead tree reader (me, not so much) and my job, which is in publications. Credit to Amazon and their Kindle for breathing life into the field and to Sony and their readers for delivering much needed variety, but B&N and the Nook is clearly the one to beat in so many ways.

First, B&N managed to deliver an eReader that in no way detracts from their store experience by offering free in-store reading. That makes it a device to take with you to the store, not an alternative for going to the store. This complementary approach, integrating the Nook into the B&N experience, is pure gold.

To make that work, B&N made sure the device had wifi and partnered with AT&T, a wireless provider that offers both 3G for downloading books on-the-go but also wifi hotspots for the stores. You walk into the store. The Nook hooks up with the wifi hotspot. You get to read books, same as you do with the physical books in the store. Others have questioned the wisdom of choosing AT&T as their partner, but when you consider they needed both 3G and wifi, there wasn’t a better option.

Second, the Nook’s lending functionality brings it closer to a real book than any eReader before it. Not only does this overcome one of the stigmas against ebooks, but it helps drive adoption of B&N’s ebook system. To read a B&N ebook, you need a B&N ebook reader, be it a Nook or their application for PC, Mac, iPhone, BlackBerry, and soon Windows Mobile. The more people they get to read B&N ebooks, the more people will be inclined to buy B&N ebooks and be able to justify buying a Nook. Very smart move on their part.

Third, the combination of energy-efficient e-ink and quick response color LCD touchscreen brings together the best of both worlds. The LCD offers on-screen keyboard input, a “Cover Flow” style look at one’s library, dynamic buttons, music control, and whatever else will come, to complement the e-ink display for the real reading. It cuts the battery life, but it still runs more than a week between charges, which is plenty. I think this split-screen approach offers tremendous potential, particularly when one considers the next advantage…

Fourth, it runs Android. That opens all sorts of software possibilities. Both official and unofficial apps are practically assured, and with input via USB and storage via SD card, some good Nook hacks should be expected too.

To me, the only question left is content. Obviously B&N has the pull to get bestsellers on the Nook, but what about newspapers, magazines, and comic books? If they get the Washington Post, I will buy my wife a Nook and cancel our (well, her) subscription to the Sunday edition. Offer magazines, and I’ll make sure she gets them all through B&N. Get comic books on that thing and I’ll buy one for myself (assuming a steep discount since there’s no color, and some free in-store reading).

Thanks to the in-store reading integration, we’d be even more inclined to visit our local store, which is saying a lot because my wife goes there all the time. We were just there last night for reasons not at all related to the Nook. The point is, B&N has the device I want and the store integration to keep us coming back. They get us the content, and we’ll be completely sold. I imagine we won’t be the only ones.



  1. JD

    10/21/2009 at 9:14 am

    All good and well. But you do realize that the heart of there ebook reader (both hardware and software versions) is basically stolen from Ereader, which they bought within the last year. I am faintly annoyed that I cannot read my ereader books on either thier software nor this ebook reader, even though I would bet the engines are very similar. If they ever shut down Ereader or Fictionwise, I will be most upset.

  2. Sumocat

    10/21/2009 at 9:50 am

    JD: By definition, something bought legally is not stolen. As for being shut down, judging from their plan thus far, I think a merger that keeps the existing customers is most probable.

  3. Sumocat

    10/21/2009 at 10:26 am

    JD: This might make you feel better…
    “Yes, you can add your Fictionwise PDB content to nook using a USB connection. nook accepts ePub, PDB and PDF files for reading, MP3s for audio, and JPG, GIF, PNG, or BMP for screensavers.”

  4. Warner Crocker

    10/21/2009 at 10:33 am

    Excellent analysis, Sumocat.

  5. borax99 (AlainC.)

    10/21/2009 at 10:52 am

    The genius is near-sighted. Oops, forgot about Canada again. (just for fun, recommend Googling “USA’s largest trading partner”)

    Ho-hum, who cares, there’s a Japanese firm out there that put out an ereader for the likes of us foreigners. It’s called Sony, I wonder if Barnes & Noble has heard of them.

    I’m a longstanding ereader customer, but guess what? Sony ebooks are currently way cheaper to get ! Result: my Sony library is growing, my ereader library is essentially static.

  6. Paul Harrigan

    10/21/2009 at 11:35 am

    I have a Sony and use it frequently. I agree with the pricing advantages it currently offers, but the B&N seems to be a good mix of the best advantages of the Sony and the Kindle.

    My hope is that the open operating system will lead to movable buttons, allowing for the differing handedness in our home, but I expect we will be buying two of these in the next year.

  7. Rob

    10/21/2009 at 12:07 pm

    what I’d love is to be able to do is move the books I’ve purchased on my kindle over to the B&N reader / vice versa. Where I chose to buy my ebooks shouldn’t matter – I just want to read them on the device platform of my choosing – whether that be a kindle, nook, pc, or iphone.

  8. Sumocat

    10/21/2009 at 12:59 pm

    Warner: Thanks!

    AlainC.: Don’t feel left out. I’m sure the maple leaf equivalent of B&N will license the nook for Canada soon enough. ;)

    Rob: Me too, and B&N is already way ahead of Amazon on that front. Their format is supported on multiple devices, compared to only Kindle and iPhone for Amazon. Nothing concrete on DRM yet, but the chatter seems focused on watermarking, and no mention of remote kill.

    More importantly, I don’t think they have any incentive to lock in customers with DRM. Their key strategy is to make the experience as close to the real book experience as possible. Locked-in DRM would go against that. They keep this as book-like as possible, which means no locked-down DRM, and they’ve got a winner.

  9. drzeller

    10/21/2009 at 1:04 pm

    Alain said “The genius is near-sighted. Oops, forgot about Canada again. (just for fun, recommend Googling “USA’s largest trading partner”)[.] Ho-hum, who cares, there’s a Japanese firm out there that put out an ereader for the likes of us foreigners. It’s called Sony, I wonder if Barnes & Noble has heard of them.”

    I didn’t think Sony had Canadian support from day one. Neither did Amazon. Does Barnes and Noble have a bricks and mortar presence in Canada? If not, that would probably affect their decision as well.

    I can definitely see companies putting in the effort for an economy with 304M people before one with 33M. That’s fewer people than live in California, even if they do share the same 2-letter abbreviation!


  10. LeeN

    10/21/2009 at 1:49 pm

    I’ve already been bit by Amazon on the Kindle, so I am a little shy on getting a new ebook reader.

    I mean the fact is I have Kindle books that can only be used on the kindle, and newer cooler ebook readers will not read it.

    So I am just concerned that if I buy the Nook and some B&N ebooks, and some where down the line some other company releases a color ebook reader with multi-touch, a digitizer/pen and high resolution, the question would be, will I be able to read B&N ebooks on it?

    For the Kindle I know the answer and it is disappointing. My books are trapped and entirely dependent on Amazon being innovative and keeping up on ebook reader tech.

  11. Ben

    10/22/2009 at 7:03 am

    @borax99 (AlainC.)
    Sony? Foreign support?… ooh, you mean WESTERN countries only. I see. I guess the middle east, india, and asia don’t count. The sony reader doesn’t support them easily. (not only will you have to make your own books, or be lucky to find some that someone else made, but they have to have a font embedded.)

  12. Mike

    10/22/2009 at 8:34 am

    Some good points to be sure.
    For me though the screens are too small.
    Reading an actual newspaper and reading on such a small screen would be completely different experiences I think.
    Though I am not saying they shouldn’t offer it.
    They should as many people will be fine with it, or at least willing to put up with it for the portability and not having to dispose of the actual paper.
    I think I’d like it better if it opened like a book with full e-ink on one side and full lcd on the other.
    Both screens here just seem too small.
    I’m interested to see what the presence of android offers up too.

  13. TateJ

    10/22/2009 at 12:45 pm

    As cool as this reader sounds, I’m still holding my breath for the Plastic Logic Que. I really want an eareader that has Zinio Functions. Plastic Logic has partnered with Zinio to deliver digital magazines.

    Oh Heck, I want them both!!!

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