Thanks to what it calls high demand, Barnes & Noble announced on Nov. 20 that people ordering its Nook e-reader after that date would have to wait until the first week of January 2010 for their devices to arrive. While that news is perhaps a good sign for the health of the e-reader market overall, it will likely disappoint any literary-minded shoppers planning on purchasing the devices at the last minute.
A posting on Barnes & Noble's Nook site stated that "the hottest holiday gift is out of stock. Order Nook today to be first in line for the New Year." Barnes & Noble is offering a "Nook holiday certificate" that lets the recipient know the e-reader will arrive "early in 2010." In addition to an e-ink display for text, the Nook's form-factor features a smaller, iPhone-like touch-screen for navigating Barnes & Noble's online bookstore.
Nooks ordered after Nov. 20 will arrive the week of January 4, 2010. Nor is Barnes & Noble alone in its delay woes: Sony also announced that, thanks to heavy demand, holiday shipments of its Daily Edition e-reader "cannot be guaranteed."
Barnes & Noble first announced two weeks ago that it would push back the ship date of the Nook e-reader into December, apparently due to the high volume or pre-orders. Various blogs reported at the time that no in-store Nook units would be available until at least December, and perhaps not until 2010. Barnes & Noble publicly announced a strategy of using its bricks-and-mortar stores as marketing leverage against Amazon.com's Kindle, which only sells online.
Mary Ellen Keating, a spokesperson for Barnes & Noble, told eWEEK on Nov. 9 that the "Nook has quickly become the fastest-selling products at Barnes & Noble. In fact, there is so much consumer interest in the Nook that pre-orders have exceeded our expectations." As of that date, pre-orders were scheduled to begin shipping on Nov. 20, with new orders moving by Dec. 11.
In the interim, though, demand for the device may have risen well beyond Barnes & Noble's manufacturing abilities. The bookseller has repeatedly declined to offer concrete sales numbers for the Nook, a decision mirrored by Amazon.com's habitual refusal to site sales for the Kindle line.
Barnes & Noble continues to face a lawsuit from Spring Design, a small IT startup that alleged in a lawsuit earlier in November that the bookseller had copied its Alex e-reader.
"Spring Design unfortunately had to take appropriate action to protect its intellectual property rights," Eric Kmiec, Spring Design's vice president of sales and marketing, said in a Nov. 2 statement announcing the lawsuit. "We showed the Alex e-book design to Barnes & Noble in good faith with the intention of working together to provide a superior dual screen e-book to the market."
Furthermore, Spring Design asserted, it had been in discussions with Barnes & Noble over the Alex e-reader for nearly a year before the lawsuit. The Alex has no official release date or price point, although it has been suggested previously that the debut will take place sometime in 2010. Like the Nook, the Alex allegedly boasts a dual-screen configuration with an e-ink display and color LCD touch-screen.
A Barnes & Noble spokesperson told eWEEK that the company "does not comment on litigation."
Throughout 2009, the e-reader industry has evolved from a niche market largely dominated by Sony and Amazon.com's e-readers to a much more fragmented battleground, one in which large companies such as Amazon.com, Sony and Barnes & Noble are competing alongside offerings from smaller startups such as Plastic Logic and Spring Design.
Those startups have-perhaps wisely-decided to focus on narrow segments within the e-reader industry. Plastic Logic, for example, plans on targeting its QUE e-reader at the SMB (small- to medium-sized business) and enterprise markets, by highlighting how the device could prove useful for business travelers.
Despite the high-profile media attention they seem to demand, e-readers occupy a relatively small segment of the overall tech market, with Forrester Research predicting sales of some 3 million units overall in the U.S. in 2009. But the increased competition between Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com has led to marked drops in the price of the original Kindle, suggesting that prices of e-readers overall could dip as more players enter the market. The sellouts by Barnes & Noble and Sony also suggest that the market is growing at a steady clip.
A massive game-changer could occur in 2010, though, if Apple releases its Tablet PC. An iTunes store that sells books and periodicals would compete directly against Amazon.com's and Barnes & Noble's own e-bookstores, and possibly complicate their existing deals with publishing companies for fresh content.
Both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble already have Apps for downloading books onto the iPhone and iPod Touch; on top of that, Amazon.com announced a Kindle application for PCs during the Windows 7 launch on Oct. 22. The desire of all these companies to create a diverse digital ecosystem for their e-books, and the rapidity with which the overall landscape is changing, suggests that the e-reader arena will look very different even a few months from now.