Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader will be available through Best Buy stores starting April 18, as the bookseller finds itself squeezed on two competitive fronts by Amazon.com's Kindle e-reader and Apple's newly launched iPad tablet PC. Under the terms of the agreement, a selection of PCs and smartphones sold through Best Buy will also include the Nook's e-reader software.
"To date, we've limited Nook distribution to Barnes & Noble retail and online stores and the customer response to our eBook Reader has exceeded our expectations," said Kevin Frain, executive vice president of e-commerce at Barnes & Noble.com. "Through this partnership, Best Buy customers will now have new and easy ways to access our expansive digital library on a variety of computing and mobile devices through BN eReader software and Barnes & Noble eBookstore."
Barnes & Noble is likely looking for a new competitive angle in light of increasing competition in the e-reader space.
"This partnership provides [Barnes & Noble] with an additional distribution channel, which is critical to driving sales of the Nook," Michael Souers, an analyst with Standard & Poor's Equity Research, told Reuters April 12. Best Buy already offers a competitor, Sony's e-reader.
In February, Barnes & Noble announced that the Nook would be available in most of its stores nationwide by mid-month, after months of delays for the devices, which the company attributed to "unprecedented customer demand." Barnes & Noble has also been working to push through software updates to its users' devices, after some early reviews-including Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal and David Pogue of The New York Times-found that the Nook's bugs distracted from the overall experience. The Nook includes an iPhone-style touch screen, for navigation and book-purchasing, in addition to its e-ink display for actual reading.
Originally thought to be a niche product by analysts, e-readers eventually became one of the must-have items of the 2009 holiday season. That led to a price war between Barnes & Noble and Amazon, with both retailers driving down the prices of their competing devices to $259. During January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a number of smaller manufacturers also debuted e-readers, many with a touch-screen or Web-browsing element, in a bid to nip off their own share of the market.
But the major game-changer is Apple's iPad, which includes an e-reader application, and which sold 450,000 units within the first five days of its April 3 release. Near the end of March, reports leaked that Amazon was striking deals with a variety of publishers, including Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, to let them choose the price of ebooks; that was widely seen as a bid to counter Apple, which was apparently in intensive discussions of its own with content producers, ranging from television studios to book publishers, to port specially modified content onto the iPad.
The iPad's ability to display full color, along with more complex layouts, makes it a particularly lively competitor to traditional e-readers' grayscale screens. Amazon has announced an SDK (software development kit) for the Kindle, and acquired a company specializing in touch-screen technology, in a likely bid to issue a new version of the device more capable of countering its competitors' features.
Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon, however, have also issued e-reader applications for the iPad. In a March 11 posting on an official Barnes & Noble blog, Paul Hochman, manager of content and social media at BarnesandNoble.com, wrote that their version of the application would make more than one million e-books, magazines and newspapers in the Barnes & Noble eBookstore available to Apple users.