Consumer Reports has rated Barnes & Noble's touch-powered, grayscale Nook higher than Amazon's Kindle device.
"That marks the first time since the Kindle launched that Amazon's e-book reader hasn't been the top-scoring model in our Ratings," Consumer Reports' Paul Reynolds wrote in a June 17 posting on its Website. "It also continues the steady improvement in Barnes & Noble's e-book devices since the company rushed out a glitchy first version of the Nook during the holiday season of 2009."
Consumer Reports gives both the new Nook (which Barnes & Noble refers to as "The Simple Touch Reader") and the latest Kindle equal ratings when it comes to battery life. The new Nook and the WiFi-only version of the Kindle also arrive at the same $140 price point.
"Among the pluses that allowed the Simple Touch to edge ahead of the Kindle was its support for e-book loans from public libraries," Reynolds wrote, "but Amazon has announced that it will bring library loans to the Kindle later this year; assuming it's implemented well, that functionality might boost Amazon's e-book reader by the few points that now separate it from the Simple Touch."
The two e-readers are so close to one another in the publication's rankings, in other words, that a solid firmware update could shift the balance.
Barnes & Noble's May 24 unveiling of a touch-screen, grayscale Nook represented a radical change in strategy for the bookseller, considering its previous release was the Nook Color, a full-color e-reader. The new Nook features a 6-inch screen and weighs less than eight ounces, with a battery reportedly capable of lasting two months on a single charge.
The Nook Color, which retails for $249, includes some decidedly tablet-like capabilities: access to 125 apps, enhanced audio and video for certain titles, Web-based email, support for Adobe Flash Player, and a social-networking app that lets readers swap books and recommendations. Many analysts saw the device as an attempt to flank Amazon's Kindle franchise, which is widely perceived as dominating the e-reader market.
"Barnes & Noble is not targeting Apple with this device. Instead, it's targeting Amazon, trying to undermine today's black-and-white Kindle as well as tomorrow's color Kindle tablet," James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester, wrote in April about the Nook Color. "Barnes & Noble may have come to market with its original e-ink Nook second, but its Nook Color upgrade gives it the upper hand in the war over the serious reader."
As mentioned by Consumer Reports, Amazon intends to release a Kindle Library Lending feature later in 2011. That will allow library patrons to borrow Kindle e-books from more than 11,000 libraries in the United States. Amazon is also seeking to broaden Kindle adoption with an ad-supported device that retails for $114, slightly cheaper than the basic Kindle at $139 and the Kindle 3G at $189.
Meanwhile, data suggests that the popularity of various e-readers is threatening the traditional publishing industry.
"The book publishing industry has entered a period of long-term decline because of the rising sales of e-book readers," read an April 28 research note from IHS iSuppli, which predicted a decrease in book revenue at a compound annual rate of three percent through 2014-a reversal from the period between 2005 and 2010, when revenue rose.
"For the traditional book publishing industry, the implications of the rise of the e-book and e-book reader markets are frightening, given the decline in paper book printing, distribution and sales," Steve Mather, IHS iSuppli's principal analyst for wireless, wrote in that research note. "The industry has entered a phase of disruption that will be as significant as the major changes impacting the music and movie business."