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B&N Unveils Nook Color; Claims ‘Largest Digital Newsstand’

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Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) officially upped its e-reader challenge this afternoon during a press conference at its Union Square store. The celebration was for the “Nook Color,” which in its hybrid tablet/e-reader is aiming at both Apple’s iPad and Amazon’s Kindle. The device, which will sell for $249, ships in about three weeks, is about half-an-inch thick and weighs less than a pound. Apart from its slender build, it comes with 8 hours of battery life, holds 6,000 books, its own app store (built on Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Android’s OS), social sharing features within the e-reader, and a digital newsstand that CEO William Lynch said would be the largest available.

This is the second “Nook” device B&N has released. The first was nearly a year ago. Here are some of the highlights from this afternoon’s presser:

Digital newsstand: The company has already lined up 100 new periodicals, which will be available for both subscription and single-issue purchases — all in full color. Some titles on the Nook Color include WSJ, NYT, USA Today, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, among others. The touchscreen lets users “swipe” through pages and images, while its “ArticleView” lets users view passages as plain text, though they can customize the fonts and style with a greater degree than most e-readers. The boast follows last spring’s deal with NewspaperDirect, which distributes 1,500 papers globally, and an even more signifcant one with e-book and electronic newspaper syndicator LibreDigital.

Nook Color store: There are about 2 million items for users to choose to shop from. And B&N’s “Lifetime Library” promises that its digital purchases will be accessible on, even if you lose a device.

Apps: The Nook Color is built on Google’s Android apps. Though Android apps will ultimately work on the Nook Color, the Android Marketplace will not be available on the Nook. Instead, B&N’s Lynch describes Nook’s app store as more for “curation.” The bookseller is inviting developers to create apps that are especially for the Nook Color.

Go to the (physical) store: Since B&N has about 45,000 physical store it needs to drive traffic to, the sharing components also support that aspect of the business. All Nook Color, Nook 3G and Nook WiFi eReader customers can use the Read In Store feature, which allows users to browse complete contents of Nook books at no cost. The More In Store features exclusive content from popular authors and special promotions. In addition to its own stores, B&N is also selling the Nook devices at Best Buy, Walmart and Books-A-Million, which has about 200 stores, mostly in the southern U.S.

Limited lending: Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) has already talked about its new sharing abilities coming soon to the Kindle, B&N are trying to keep up. The “LendMe” feature allows owners of an e-book to lend a digital copy to someone else for up to 14 days. The lending covers all Nook devices and apps.

No price war? Although B&N cut the price of its first Nook by 23 percent this past summer, don’t expect another price war, Lynch said during the Q&A. That’s even if Amazon cuts the price of its Kindle — like it did after B&N’s cheaper device appeared.