With more than two weeks left in the Christmas-shopping season, Barnes & Noble's nook e-reader went on sale Monday. The petite electronic book reader from the giant bookselling retail chain is being watched carefully for its impact on the growing e-book industry -- and for its sales performance compared to its main competitor, Amazon's Kindle.
The nook was formally announced in late October, when Barnes & Noble proudly touted its various firsts. These included being the first Android-based e-book reader, the first to offer a color touchscreen, and the first to offer free 3G wireless connectivity on the AT&T network and Wi-Fi within Barnes & Noble stores.
The company also noted that nook is the first e-book readers to provide "digital lending." The device's LendMe technology allows an owner to lend a variety of e-books free, for up to two weeks, just by choosing the book and sending it to a friend's device.
The friend's device, which would use Barnes & Noble's free eReader software, could be another nook, an iPhone, an iPod touch, some BlackBerry and Motorola smartphones, or a Mac or PC. Just as lending your book would mean you can't read it, that book becomes locked on the nook when lent out. There is only one two-week lending period per friend, per lent book. Only some books have lending rights.
Other features include a virtual bookmark that returns the reader to the place left off in the last book being read. The bookmark works on the eReader software on a user's other devices, and bookmarks can be updated when the user returns to reading on the nook.
The initial reaction to the nook has been mixed. In addition to features such as book lending, some industry observers are praising the navigational touchscreen, compared to the buttons and joystick on the Kindle. But there are also complaints about the device's slow speed in booting, opening a book, or turning pages.
In terms of the displays for the nook and the Kindle, the consensus is they are comparable. The battery life, though, may turn out to be an issue, with Barnes & Noble saying a charged battery is good for 10 days, while the Kindle claims 14. Both the Kindle and the nook are the same price -- about $260.
However the nook shapes up against its older rival, the NPD Group's Ross Rubin said "it is very significant when the leading brick-and-mortar book retailer is embracing its own platform for digital books."
He pointed out that the company has noted it's been using e-commerce and experimenting with digital books "for some time," but the nook allows the chain to do "some innovative things," such as driving sales to the company's physical and online stores.
As for the reported slowness, Rubin noted that Sony's first generation of e-readers also had a slow refresh rate, and the first release of any technology product is "going to have rough edges." The nook, he said, will be "a strong competitor to the Kindle and will help to open up the market" by virtue of the platform and because of Barnes & Noble's embrace of the ePub open e-publishing standard.