Its 700-plus U.S. stores should give Barnes & Noble an edge in the contest for e-reader dollars but many won’t be selling the actual Nook on site. Instead, I was told as a customer, the booksellers will order a device for in-store customers from the BN.com website to be shipped to their home, much as the buyer could do online from home. Only certain stores will carry the Nook for on-the-spot sale; in St. Louis, that’s the newest and largest suburban location but not the busy, smaller store near me that would seem to be in a demographic sweet spot. [For an update and response from B&N, see this morning's post: Barnes & Noble Will Sell Plastic Logic's Que In Stores, Online; More On Nook Sales.]
It looks like each store will get a unit for the “test drives” mentioned last week by William Lynch, president of BN.com, who promised “stunning displays.” For now, in-store Nook marketing is minimal, with a one-sheet and a Nook-sized 16-page glossy piece by the cash registers in the location I just left and a shelf behind the register with the one-sheets facing out like books on display.
So far, would-be buyers have even less chance to try a Nook before Nov. 30 then they do the *Amazon* Kindle, which is sold only online but is already in circulation; Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) also offers to match up the curious with nearby Kindle owners. Sonys are sold online and in various retail locations, including kiosks in Best Buy and Borders; the Reader Daily Edition is due in December. The iRex DR800 SG should be in Best Buy stores in the next few weeks.
As the first wave of hype washes back out, what else do we need to know about the Nook? Lynch provided some answers during a press call; we fill in the rest.
– Not a big change for publishers: Like Amazon, B&N will “own” the relationship with customers, sharing revenue with subscription-based publishers. The differences: the rev share should be more favorable that Amazon’s customary 70-30 take and B&N promises to share more data — but not the core customer info that would allow direct communication. The result may be smoother for the customer but not a game changer in concrete ways for the publishers. Lynch says the chain is working with publishers on potential solutions.
– LendMe’s limits?: The lending option sounds great in theory but it has a lot of holes on the pay side of the B&N Bookstore. Lynch admitted that some publishers have opted out or in some cases, a portion of a catalog is blacked out or an author. No specifics yet but any consumer who’s buying one with the notion of putting a favorite author’s library on the Nook might want to wait until its more clear which books will be available.
– Text-to-speech?: Nope. The Nook could produce the sound (it’s also an MP3 player) but B&N will avoid the problems Amazon ran into with publishers who didn’t like the text-to-speech option on Kindle 2. The rationale Lynch offered — the technology isn’t good enough.
– Browser?: Nope. Aside from the MP3 player, which can be used for audio books, the Nook is meant for reading. Lynch was a little taken aback when someone asked about being able to get books from other sources via the Nook. “There’s no way to access other e-book stores. Why would you want to do that?”
– B&N members: As we reported earlier, B&N members who get a 10 percent discount on books and some other items don’t get the same benefit with digital content. Lynch confirmed the discount won’t apply to the device either. He said members spend most of their time in stores and could get special benefits through promotions pushed to them when they log in for free Wi-Fi access now available to all customers. (I’ve had a membership for several years; it’s paid for itself this year but if my purchases were primarily digital, that wouldn’t be the case on straight discount.)
– Advertising: No advertising beyond B&N’s own marketing and promotion to start but Lynch said that could change.