The Nook and the Kindle

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NookWandering through my local Barnes and Noble over the weekend I ran into something unusual. A Nook. For months I have been drawn to the banners and brochures near the help desk, only to learn that the helpers didn’t know when the store might have an actual Nook on display. This was a pleasant surprise.

I think that we have to view the Nook differently than we view all the other devices that are beginning to flood onto the market. First, and most importantly, the Nook is connected to an existing distribution franchise, much as the Kindle was when it hit the market in late 2007. As we learned then, connection to a bookseller with existing distribution makes all the difference to an ereader device. Otherwise, why wasn’t consumer electronics giant Sony more successful in the years before the Kindle, especially given the size of its head start in the market? First mover should have counted for something, right? Clearly now, with 20/20 hindsight, we recognize that the Kindle ushered the ebook market out of the backwaters where it had been languishing on Sony’s watch, precisely because it nestled its new reading device in the nest of one of the biggest book distribution systems on the planet. Now, Barnes and Noble, is following that lead, and stands to succeed in some measure because of it.

Second, the book distribution system in which the company is nestling its Nook is one that the public is very familiar with and comfortable with. Who else holds mind share, even awareness, for bricks-and-mortar book distribution? Borders, maybe. Books-a-Million, not so much. B. Dalton? These examples prove the point: Barnes has a head start in an arena that Amazon cannot touch, the world of real-world bookstores. You just can’t hang out in an overstuffed chair, sipping your latte, and browse through books, at Amazon.

It is an interesting side note, I think, that Barnes also recognized the importance of something that is in the DNA of any book retailer: color matters. The color touch screen at the bottom of the Nook reflects this awareness. It is more than just a way to one-up the Kindle’s feature set; the ability to display cover art, so important to the look and feel of a Barnes and Noble store–the impact of those piles of brightly-colored books on tables and racks that greet you when you walk in the store–that element of the book browsing and buying experience is incorporated into the Nook.

(During my few minutes with the Nook, that color screen was kept on a pretty tight leash by the power management software in the device and kept going dark at what seemed to be very short intervals. It wasn’t hard to wake up, but because that screen is used in lieu of physical controls, its disappearance takes all your navigation options with it, and that I found a bit unnerving.)

How will this hit the sensibilities of people in schools? Well, kids like and expect color, so that’s a plus. If Barnes is successful in getting sample devices into all its stores, I think that teachers and kids will appreciate being able to get one into their hands to see what it is like before purchasing. (Remember Amazon’s workaround for its inability to provide this kind of real world preview? It enlisted its customers to meet up with prospective customers with its “see a Kindle near you” program. Wonder how effective that was?)

Ultimately, it should (emphasis on “should”) be hard for Barnes to squander the leverage of its brand and its physical locations in competing with Amazon. It is off to a weak start by failing to learn from Amazon’s early supply problems with the Kindle. By rushing to take advantage of the recent holiday buying season, Barnes let everyone know that its Nook operation is still rough around the edges–for sure. But given the fact that they have produced a nice, tight little reading device, and that they still own a bunch of comfy chairs and latte machines to go with it, they will find a number of customers for the Nook that Amazon has yet to reach.

  7 comments for “The Nook and the Kindle

  1. August 4, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    I’ve recently tried a friend’s Nook and I have to say its software is still definitely “rough around the edges”. In fact, that’s a huge understatement. It’s definitely slower than my Kindle dx and I find the way functions work to be rather confusing. I admit I’m biased since I’ve owned all Kindle models so far (and already ordered the next one), but still…Also, I feel Kindle DX’s screen contrast is better than the Nook’s, but I don’t personally think that’s a major point.

    All in all, I think the new Kindle model (the one recently launched) will be a game winner for Amazon. Not that it will bring anything revolutionary to the table, but it will define what to expect from a reader and will do so at a cheaper price.

  2. February 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    “Remember Amazon’s workaround for its inability to provide this kind of real world preview? It enlisted its customers to meet up with prospective customers with its “see a Kindle near you” program. Wonder how effective that was?”

    I don’t know! I’d have to say their idea is a pretty effective one, although they didn’t really have to recruit anyone (well, me) to purposely show off the Kindle. I carry mine around with me a lot, and everywhere I go people want to know what it is and they want to touch it and play around with it to see what it is like. Usually one or two of those people look like they will seriously considering buying one, once they see that the screen really looks like paper. I am fairly certain that my Kindle has caused more than a few people to go out and buy one! I also rave about it on twitter and facebook… and I wanted one even though I didn’t see one in person. Their online videos are pretty good.
    My main concern with my Kindle is that Amazon wins the race, here. Otherwise my investment won’t be one for long. I wonder if Amazon realizes that people would likely be open to extra fees or even slightly higher prices for books, if it meant their device would win in the market place. I would, at least. They have “experimental” internet access right now, and if they found a way to make it a bit faster and the format better, I’d pay a fee ($5-$15) every month to use their wireless network to check my e-mail and stuff from my Kindle. It would be way better than the Ipad, that is for sure. I won’t purposely tell them I’d be willing to pay them more, but if they are savvy, they will find comments like these.
    I think they will have to charge for extra internet access (beyond the included whispernet) if they are going to get their method of making money with this to be sustainable. Or maybe not, I am not totally abreast of the financial situation. I did read somewhere that they are running lean with it though, by slashing prices for books and offering internet for free.

  3. willd
    January 14, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I really think that Barnes failed to learn from Amazon’s early stumbles with the Kindle. To make an announcement and then find themselves unable to ship the device for Christmas is very off-putting for consumers. The Nook’s touchscreen across the bottom was pretty clunky when I tried it at Barnes, but I attribute my reaction to the expected unfamiliarity with a new device. Please keep us posted on your experience going forward, Joe.

  4. willd
    January 14, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Nice way to describe the operation, Andrys: “it’s like handling a reader with a remote control with time-delays.” I have been very impressed with how fast my DX works now with the software update, and, as I mentioned somewhere else, the improved power management has made me forget about turning off the wireless, which I used to do all the time. By refining rather than introducing new product, Amazon has tweaked the Kindle into a pretty dominant position in this market.

  5. Joe
    January 13, 2010 at 8:26 am

    I had high hopes for the Nook but I was extremely dissapointed. The touchscreen was awful and I didnt like the small color screen at the bottom at al all – it was way too dominating and I imagine that it drains the battery faster. On top of that I feel that B&N mislead people by saying that you can lend out books to friends…what they dont say is that you can only lend a book out ONE time and only if the publisher allows it. I also found the devise very slow, so to sum up; I would pick a Sony or Kindle any over the Nook. That being said, I love B & Ns stores…just dont like their Nook – maybe the next generation will be better 🙂

  6. willd
    January 12, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks, Andrys! It did take me a while to figure out how to re-awaken the navigation screen so that I could move up and down the menu, for example. I was dismayed when Amazon took away some of the external controls on the original Kindle and moved them to menus, but the Nook takes this trend to the extreme. Had I learned on the Nook first, the Kindle would, I’m sure, feel funny to me. I’m just waiting for one of these companies to wake up and offer educator’s pricing, to get on record that they want their device to be THE device for educators. For me, the Kindle is still the most useful reader out there. (P.s. I got a leather case for my DX for Christmas!)

  7. January 12, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Good points! I love going to B&N and they’ve closed down 3 stores here recently, one this month, nearby, and there’s just one left so we need them to survive. Can’t imagine not having a store with tons of books to browse and in such a relaxed atmosphere.

    I’ll add that the cellular WIRELESS download was the lightning strike and that other companies finally noted that.

    The weak start by Barnes was due mainly to its poor functioning and a 2nd update that has made matters worse, with missing pages and missing bookmarks galore. But people are willing to wait for good things and more would have had the reviews been considerably better.

    I like its looks better than the Kindle’s and I like its screen contrast quite a bit more also. However, it’s like handling a reader with a remote control with time-delays. And there are too many steps needed to get simplest things done, not to mention the editing features.

    Those who haven’t tried out many features on the Kindle will best tolerate the problems and it’s a sweet-looking device. Given time, it should function fine. That that last update was not good. (1.11)

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