My recent reviews of the Nook e-reader apps for Windows, iOS, and Android got me curious about what the B&N e-ink reader is like to use. I’ve owned Kindles and I’ve owned Kobos, but I’ve never had much experience with the e-ink Nook. And I do own plenty of Nook content thanks to the Fictionwise thing. Out of curiosity, I checked Barnes & Noble’s site for the first time in a while to see what devices are currently on offer.
As it happens, there’s just…one, at least as far as e-ink goes: the $130 Nook GlowLight Plus, roughly equivalent to the Kindle Paperwhite. It might be “our best eReader ever,” but it’s also their only e-reader at the moment, apart from the Nook-branded versions of Samsung’s 8” Galaxy Tab S2, 9.6” Galaxy Tab E , and 7” Galaxy Tab 4 tablets.
By comparison, Amazon has four different models of Kindle (not counting the Kindle for Kids bundle) at different price points, ranging from the $80 basic touch model up to the forthcoming $290 Oasis. It also has four different models of Fire tablet, though Barnes & Noble’s at least use plain-vanilla Android.
This failure to segment the market into different price ranges the way Amazon has seems to be emblematic of the way Barnes & Noble has lost its focus on e-books. Coming out with different models, promoting them, designing its own tablets instead of rebranding Samsung’s—these things all cost additional money. And Barnes & Noble is in cutback mode when it comes to the Nook these days, outsourcing much of its support and development to India.
Of course, even when Barnes & Noble was doing all those things, Amazon still trounced it, repeatedly. In that light, Barnes & Noble’s decision to cut back, and not throw good money after bad, could be considered a sound business decision. If Barnes & Noble wants its bricks-and-mortar business not to go the way of Borders, it needs to focus on cutting costs and not throw good money away.
On the other hand, if you don’t play, you can’t win, and Barnes & Noble seems to be on its way to dealing itself out of the game. One fewer competitor for Amazon.
Right now, one big area where Amazon is coming out ahead is in the low-end device market. Amazon has a $70 Kindle, and $50 and $70 Fire tablets. Even if you add in the extra $20 it costs to disable Special Offers, they still come in well below the cost of the cheapest Nook device, the Galaxy Tab 4 7.0—currently on sale for $120. Those Fires might be crippled when it comes to running all the same Android apps as any other tablet out of the box, but all indications are that most people who buy them don’t care. They just want a super-cheap, dependable tablet on which they can view their media and do their net stuff. Having access to the most popular e-book store is just the icing on the cake.
That brings me back to the $130 Nook GlowLight Plus. Perhaps people who really don’t like the other choices, or are already heavily-invested in Nook and want a hardware device to read their titles there, won’t balk at that price. Plenty of people buy the Paperwhite, after all, and it’s still well below the cost of the $290 Oasis. But who else is Barnes & Noble going to get to buy its reader?
How is Barnes & Noble going to get new Nook customers? And how much longer is the company even going to be able to support Nook e-books at all at this rate? Will US Nook customers have the same experience as UK Nook customers, waking up one morning to see an announcement in their inboxes that their e-book libraries are about to be shuffled off to some other retailer?
In the end, I suspect that if I do want to get my hands on a cheap Nook e-ink reader to try it out, I’m going to end up having to go through eBay.
Or maybe, irony of ironies, buy it from Amazon.