Barnes and Noble's Touch-Screen Nook Challenges Kindle

Barnes & Noble's new touch-screen Nook offers a fresh challenge to the Amazon Kindle's lead in the e-reader market.

Barnes & Noble's e-reading strategy hooked a sharp left May 24, with the unveiling of a grayscale Nook e-reader navigable via touch screen.

That represents a radical change for the bookseller, which had concentrated its most recent efforts on the Nook Color, a full-color e-reader with some tablet-style features.

The new Nook features a 6-inch screen and weighs less than eight ounces. Barnes & Noble claims the battery will last for two months on a single charge, and that the device's memory can store up to 1,000 e-books and periodicals. It retails for $139, with shipping slated to begin June 10.

Contrast that to the Nook Color, which retails for $249 and features access to 125 apps, enhanced audio and video for certain titles, and a social-networking app that lets readers swap books and recommendations. In a decidedly tablet-like twist, it also consolidates Web-based email into a single in- box, along with support for Adobe Flash Player. Many analysts saw that device as an attempt to flank Amazon's grayscale Kindle, 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 an April 25 blog posting 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."

Even as Barnes & Noble seemed increasingly all in on color e-reading, Amazon concentrated on enhancing the Kindle's reading capabilities. On April 20, the company announced a Kindle Library Lending feature, due later in 2011, which will allow readers 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.

Evidently, Barnes & Noble wasn't willing to let its own grayscale efforts languish into obsolescence. Nor could it, really, when data suggests that the popularity of various e-reader manufacturers is (for all intents and purposes) drowning the market for traditional print books in the proverbial bathtub.

"The book publishing industry has entered a period of long-term decline because of the rising sales of e-book readers," reads 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 an April 28 statement. "The industry has entered a phase of disruption that will be as significant as the major changes impacting the music and movie business."

But with an e-reader, you can carry dozens of books in the palm of your hand. In the palm of your hand.