Barnes and Noble's Nook E-Reader Delayed

Barnes & Noble will push back the ship date of its Nook e-reader into December for many pre-orders, apparently in response to higher-than-expected demand for the device. Even as Barnes & Noble gears up to battle Amazon.com's Kindle line of devices, it faces a lawsuit from IT startup Spring Design, which alleges that the bookseller copied its dual-screen format. The price of certain e-readers has been declining as competition heats up between various manufacturers.

Barnes & Noble suggested that demand for its new Nook e-reader would push back the shipping date for some pre-orders from November into the second week of December.

Blogs such as Brighthand also reported that no in-store Nook units would be available for sale until at least December, and perhaps next year. An integral part of Barnes & Noble's e-reader strategy, as it seeks to compete with Amazon.com's Kindle line, is leveraging its bricks-and-mortar locations to sell the devices.

Mary Ellen Keating, a spokesperson for Barnes & Noble, told eWEEK that "Nook has quickly become the fastest selling product at Barnes & Noble. In fact, there is so much consumer interest in Nook, that pre-orders have exceeded our expectations." According to Keating, pre-orders will begin shipping on Nov. 20, while new orders will ship Dec. 11.

No firm pre-sales numbers for the Nook have been offered, however. Barnes & Noble could potentially follow in the footsteps of Amazon.com, which regularly declines to break out specific sales numbers for the Kindle.

Last week, Barnes & Noble's Nook rollout hit a potential roadblock when Spring Design, a small IT startup, announced that it would file a lawsuit against the bookseller for allegedly copying 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. "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."

Spring Design asserted that its discussions with Barnes & Noble over the Alex e-reader extended back to the beginning of 2009. Both the Nook and Alex e-readers feature a dual-screen configuration that pairs an e-ink display with a color LCD touch-screen.

When approached by eWEEK for comment, a Barnes & Noble spokesperson said that, "As a matter of policy, Barnes & Noble does not comment on litigation."

The Nook is scheduled for release at a price-point of $259. Barnes & Noble's eBookstore, launched in July, currently boasts over 700,000 downloadable books along with 500,000 free public-domain volumes from Google. While Spring Design has not announced a release date or price point, it had suggested previously that the Alex will make its debut sometime in 2010.

Both devices, along with other e-readers from IT startups such as Plastic Logic, all aim to carve their own market-share away from Amazon.com and its popular line of Kindle e-readers. Given that Amazon.com positioned the Kindle as a mass-market item, as highlighted by its high-profile launches for each successive device, some of these e-readers have decided to focus instead of very specific market segments; for example, Plastic Logic will aim its QUE e-reader at the SMB (small- to medium-sized business) and enterprise markets.

Despite the media attention devoted to e-readers, the devices still occupy a relatively small market segment. Forrester Research predicted that some 3 million units will be sold in the U.S. with 2009. However, the increased competition is already driving the units' prices down-as evidenced by the Kindle cost-cuts initiated by Amazon.com in the wake of the Nook's announcement-which may attract more users in the coming year. Sony has also been reducing the pricing of its e-readers in recent months.

As a whole, the e-reader industry faces a potentially massive threat from Apple and its much-rumored Tablet PC, which sources have alleged will feature a media-downloading component. This would directly compete with Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, which have been signing deals with publishers to port their periodical content onto their respective devices. Given that Apple has remained extraordinarily tight-lipped about the existence of such a device, however, the effect on e-readers is largely conjecture at this point.

In order to take advantage of the popularity of other Apple products, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com have introduced book-downloading Apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. During the Windows 7 launch on Oct. 22, Amazon.com announced that it would offer a Kindle application allowing users to download and read e-books on their desktops and laptops.