The $149 Nook: Are eBook Prices the Next Battle?

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By Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World

That’s a truly magical price, and since the device comes with the huge B&N e-bookstore ecosystem behind it, and has that funky color touchscreen aboard it’ll no doubt attract many a shopper who’d been previously shy of buying an e-reader through cost implications–or not wanting to buy a totally new class of device from a cheap but unheard-of provider.

The limitations of only being able to download new books or use the Nook’s Web powers only when in range of a wireless network won’t really be an issue for many folk just looking to buy their first digital book reader, particularly at that attractive price.

$149 Nook: The E-Reader’s Demise Begins With a Race to the Bottom

Was it really less than six months ago that a slew of new eReaders were announced and/or on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Expo, and the iPad was still a mythical Unicorn? While the majority of those eReaders have yet to hit the market, is it possible that the battle they were hoping to be a part of officially ended today?

Today’s announcement of a WiFi-only Nook for $149, along with the original 3G version dropping to $199, was an aggressive step forward for Barnes & Noble, the seemingly invisible 800-pound gorilla in the digital book world (Google is the gorilla everyone is keeping both eyes on), and could be seen as both the end of one battle, and the acceleration of another.

For the vast majority of people who haven’t bought into eBooks yet, the Nook offers several competitive advantages over Amazon.com’s Kindle (Product Comparison PDF), not the least of which is B&N being a trusted retailer with a powerful physical presence. Amazon’s recent deal with Target and Apple’s 200+ Retail Stores both illustrate the importance of a physical presence in expanding the market for their respective products, and with the Nook being prominently marketed in all B&Ns as well as being sold at Best Buy, the nation’s largest electronics retailer, it’s poised to at least duplicate Kindle’s success and possibly lead a renewed spike in eBook sales.

Kindle's price cut to $189Other notable Nook advantages:

  • Free WiFi access in all B&N stores AND all AT&T hotspots
  • Free in-store browsing of complete eBooks (not just limited samples)
  • $60 and $110 cheaper than Kindle 2

Besides finally becoming a viable competitor to the Kindle, the price drop also effectively kneecaps floundering and fledgling competitors like SONY and Kobo, while arguably declaring devices from the likes of Aluratek, Copia, iRex, et al, dead on arrival or stillborn.

Interestingly, while Fast Company sees the Nook’s $149 price tag as the beginning of the end for dedicated eReaders in general, it’s more likely that the short-term effect will be to exert downward pressure on the price of eBooks themselves, as Barnes & Noble is arguably far better positioned to capitalize on the current hype around eBooks than Apple’s limited iBooks platform and its far more expensive iPad.

Kirk Biglione on eBook pricing

Lauren Dane on eBook Pricing

If the Nook’s lower price makes it a big hit, and lower priced, non-Agency Model eBooks start to dominate both the Kindle and Nook best-seller lists — the latter of which will see an inevitable influx of low-priced eBooks via PubIt! later this summer — publishers who rushed into Steve Jobs’ embrace may find themselves regretting the move as readers vote with their wallets.

About Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is an old and new media pragmatist, social media realist, and marketing strategist. He is the former Director of Programming & Business Development for Digital Book World, a published poet, writer, and active blogger since 2003. He views publishing as a community service, and is optimistic about its future.

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12 thoughts on “The $149 Nook: Are eBook Prices the Next Battle?

    • The big question is Guy, will there truly be a sizable market for a device that does only one thing . . .or will the ultimate winner be the multi-purpose device? Google Edition will make books available anywhere, anytime, in any format, so that be the true competition for the ereading-only device.

      Those that want to read, listen to music, use various apps, do their email, et al, will likely choose a compact device that does it all.

      Is the “killer application” still the content? Who can offer unique content, in unique packages, for attractive pricing? Therein might lie the winner.

      • I think the market for dedicated readers of static eBooks is relatively fixed, and Amazon and B&N are best positioned to own it; it’s a two-party system that no one else will be able to crack in a sustainable manner.

        The larger market is interactive content and multi-purpose devices, and the competition there isn’t so much between devices as eco-systems: the walled gardens of apps vs. the open web. Apple has a significant advantage in the former, but they’re wisely hedging their bets on the latter with their support of HTML5. Some of the best content on the iPad is accessed via Safari, not the app store.

        Content has always been the “killer app”, IMO, but context is the differentiator. Publishers who create and curate agile content that can be cost-effectively deployed in a variety of contexts will be the ultimate winners.

  1. I think this is blowing things a little too far out of the water. Yes, a lower price point is nice, but the Kindle and the Nook share far more than B&N wants you to know, and they strut features that simply don’t help very much:

    - in store reading of “any ebook title” is limited to one hour at B&N
    - you simply don’t want to browse the web on either of these devices
    - you can’t very easily get independent ebooks (side-loading) on either device. They both require conversions, but the Kindle options are quite accommodating (emailing for document conversion and delivery via whispernet (a few cents) or emailing for document delivery and manually load via USB (for free)). You simply drag any ePub onto iBooks on the iPad via USB to load them.
    - you can’t read PDFs on either device. You can transfer PDFs, but they are parsed (if it’s a very straight-forward text PDF) and the text is readable. If you want to read formatted PDFs (like most whitepapers and technical documents are) then forget about it. You simply download directly to an iPad to read them natively, or drag onto it via USB.
    - you mention physical stores as an advantage, but once you purchase a Nook there’s really no advantage at all. The advantage is solely limited to B&N selling units via a physical presence.

    If you require a dedicated b/w ereader, it looks like they just got cheaper. But if you want to read PDFs, technical books with graphs and charts, photography and functional layout, then you need a tablet (you know the one, or hopefully one of the competitors later this year or next).

    Readers are enjoying their ebooks on the iPad via Kindle, iBooks, B&N, Kobo and many other apps, thank you very much. The only areas the iPad falls short are: it’s heavier, and when in strong direct sunlight there’s a lot of glare. Broiling in the sun isn’t my normal reading posture.

    • “But if you want to read PDFs…”

      And that right there is why it’s not Kindle vs. iPad, but Kindle vs. Nook and iPad vs. laptops and the open web. There is a market for dedicated ereaders and one for multi-function devices, and the overlap isn’t nearly as large as some seem to believe.

  2. I am happy with my ereader (ECOreader) that simply gives me a good read on titles transferred from my laptop. What bugs me is paying for a digital title and not being allowed to transfer it to my handheld reader. As for browsing on the move, I use my smartphone (4.3inch screen), yet still prefer reading a book on my specialised ECOreader.

  3. I understand the eReader debate, because it is immediate, and in front of us today. But each time I read an article about the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or any other one-dimensional, ePub-beholden reading device that simply replicates the printed book experience, I can’t help but think we’re missing where it’s all going. I think these are temporary devices that will soon be relegated to basement storage boxes and looked upon longingly like my old Sony cassette Walkman. I can’t help but think we are spinning, irreversibly towards a transmedia future, where books become evolved media packages, unique to whatever genre or category benefits are appropriate, and whatever the community of users – be they romance or cookbook or book club-style fiction or self-help – desires and demands. When this happens — and it is destined, no? — the Kindle and the Nook will be dinosaur devices, incapable of drawing in the world on the other side of the Internet. What am I missing here?

  4. Didn’t publishers realize they were being played for fools by Apple for a cheap publicity push? Did they really expect $15 ebooks would last? Or was it a stopgap for a good quarterly report?

    This is a content war more than a device war (though sometimes the two are related). Looks to me like Amazon wins no matter what.

    Scott Nicholson
    http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com

  5. We speak as if the iPad, and other multi-function tablets to come, will remain priced at $400 and above. When those prices start dropping, single use, dedicated e-readers become less and less valuable. Even at the current price the iPad is a good value for a family of four, providing email, shopping, movies & reading. Tablet prices will continue to drop as ebook inventories continue to increase. A Universal Library located in the cloud is inevitable & coming and will render the content war moot.

    What I often lament is/was B&N’s failure to take advantage of their real strength — as the dominant brick & mortar bookstore — and capture more of the early e-book reader market share by HANDING EVERYONE WHO ENTERED THEIR STORES A GODDAM NOOK!

    B&N captured our dollars & hearts by creating the modern “reader destination,” and they could have capitalized on that by setting up Nook reader stations — I pictured long tables with low lights ala the NYPL — where shoppers could sit and plug in for a few hours and fall in love with the digital book experience. And drink coffee. And repeat.

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