There’s this little tablet called the Kindle Fire that has been getting some press recently, but Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) is forging ahead anyway: The company is holding a press conference on Monday at which it is widely expected to announce the new Nook Color tablet. How will Barnes & Noble get customers to care?
Here are five ways Barnes & Noble–which says it has around 26 percent of e-reader market share–could attempt to carve out a niche for the new Nook Color tablet.
A strong focus on kids and families… Barnes & Noble has started selling more toys and games in its bricks-and-mortar stores–devoting up to 1,000 square feet of store space to those items in some cases, according to the WSJ. And the company has heavily promoted the picture books available on the Nook Color. So the company might present the new tablet as one that the whole family can use–kids can play games on it in the car, their parents can read them stories on it at bedtime and the parents can use it to read their own books and magazines or to watch movies after the kids are asleep. (Of course, all of those things are already possible on the iPad and will be on the Kindle Fire, but those devices haven’t been marketed at kids.)
The Digital Reader thinks a new Nook Color tablet might focus on gaming and that it could be released in partnership with GameSpot. I think this seems like a stretch, but in the same way that Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) marketed the Kinect to women and families, it’s not totally out of the question that Barnes & Noble would market a new Nook Color as a family-friendly gaming device as well as an e-reader.
…And/or a continued focus on female readers. Nobody buys a Nook Color because they think it is the best tablet on the market. They buy it because it is basically an e-reader with color. Up to now, Barnes & Noble has aimed the bulk of the Nook Color marketing squarely at women–not a terrible strategy considering that a bunch of research shows that most e-reader owners are women and about a third are over the age of 55. And when Barnes & Noble announced the $139 Nook Simple Touch Reader in May, CEO William Lynch bragged (?) it was easy enough for your grandmother to use.
Those talking points could extend to a new Nook Color. I am (obviously) not saying that I think older women need some kind of really easy, Leapfrog-like tablet, just that Barnes & Noble has previously tried to appeal to women who don’t see themselves as techies. We could see a continued focus on a streamlined, easy, “pretty” reading experience, minus tech-y brag points about cloud storage, fast Web browsing or a dual-core processor the way Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) has with the Kindle Fire. Rather, B&N might play up basic user-friendly tech specs like battery life and a smooth touchscreen experience, as well as functions like photo viewing and e-mail.
Major in-store customer service and promotion. The WSJ recently reported that Barnes & Noble plans to double the size of Nook boutiques in 40 stores–to over 2,000 square feet in some cases. As they also increase the space devoted to toys and games, it is clear that they’re hoping that families will come in and browse for all kinds of products. A Nook boutique near the toy section would allow parents and kids to browse at the same time. And if the Nook boutique is heavily promoting kids’ games and books, kids have double the opportunities to beg their parents to buy them things.
Lots of social networking. The Nook Color now offers a beta feature called “Nook Friends,” which lets users “easily swap books, get a friend’s take on a new bestseller, discover great new reads or see if someone’s enjoying their latest book.” I’d expect that feature to be enhanced for the new Nook Color, possibly with Twitter and Facebook integration, since Kindle hasn’t played up social reading features much. (It’s unclear how many social reading features people actually want or care about, but a lot of companies are pushing them out anyway.)
A bigger screen before a lower price point. The Kindle Fire is $199 (as is the Kobo Vox). Amazon is most likely subsidizing the cost of the Fire to keep its price low. (It’s unclear how Kobo can make the Vox so cheap.) The current Nook Color is $249. I’d expect the price of that device to drop to $199 or less, with the new Nook Color priced at $249 or higher. For that, users might get a bigger screen, maybe 10 inches compared to the Kindle Fire’s 7 inches. Barnes & Noble could say that the big screen is better for reading cookbooks, magazines, picture books and games, and claim that justifies a price higher than the Kindle Fire’s.