The Nook - too late to catch the Kindle?

Barnes and Noble bookshop

The e-reader and tablet markets are sorted, right? Amazon owns the e-reader business with its Kindle, Apple's iPad dominates in tablets, with a bit of room at the cheaper end for Google's Nexus and the Kindle Fire. But a giant US book chain begs to differ.

Barnes and Noble has unveiled its plans for an assault on the UK market this morning. It will be offering British customers its Nook range of e-readers, along with new colour tablet computers, the Nook HD and the Nook HD+.

I had a briefing earlier this week, and got a chance to look at the devices. At first glance they seem worthy competitors to the Kindles, iPads and Nexuses. The Nook Simple Touch Glowlight, for instance, is a touchscreen e-reader with an inbuilt light which enables you to read in bed in the dark without disturbing your partner.

Backing up the impressive hardware is the Barnes and Noble online store, offering 2.5 million books, all of the leading newspapers and magazines and plenty of movies and TV series.

It seems a compelling offering and Barnes and Noble, which has grabbed 27% of the e-book market in the US, hopes to make a big impact in the UK. It believes its e-readers will prove more attractive than the Kindle, and its Nook colour tablets will give the Google Nexus and the Kindle Fire - when it arrives in the UK - a run for their money.

But here's the problem - it may be too late, the die may already be cast. In the smartphone market, hopeful executives from Nokia and Microsoft insist that the race has only just started because most of the world has yet to get a smartphone.

Reader using a Nook e-reader The original Nook was launched in 2009

Similarly, Barnes and Noble can point out that most people have not yet got an e-reader or a tablet so there should be room for all sorts of new entrants.

The trouble is that in both markets, the early adopters have chosen the winners - Apple and Samsung in smartphones, Apple, Amazon and maybe Google in e-readers and tablets. And when consumers new to these markets ask friends what they should buy, they are likely to be told to get whatever those early adopters have chosen.

New devices may have better screens, superior battery life, and be lighter or thinner than the market leaders - but it's increasingly hard for consumers who aren't experts to differentiate between them. I waved a Nook around at a techie gathering this week, and most people thought it was a Kindle.

Given the huge dominance of Amazon in e-books - and Apple in tablets - many will be wishing Barnes and Noble well as it tries to carve itself a place in the UK market. More choice is surely a good thing. But a brand that is virtually unknown in the UK may struggle to get consumers to snuggle down with a good Nook rather than cosy up to a Kindle.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Consumer choice is a good thing but certain people will still buy the over-priced Apple products as they have more money than sense.

    A fool with a tool is still a fool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    the biggest obstacle facing new entrants isn't just that they're late. The lock-in of existing users means it's difficult to switch. For example would I be able to transfer all my books bought for the Kindle to the Nook? Even if something a bit better comes along, how likely am I to switch? I only moved from WinMo to iOS because I couldn't migrate to Win8 - I was untethered. Won't happen soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    30 ............. Kindle has the incalculable advantage of having the word ' kindle' used as the name for an e -reader. This must give it a long start over rivals. Hoover was similarly adopted as the generic word.

    I've been trying all evening to download an e-book to my hoover, but it's not working .............

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    The e-reader and tablet markets are sorted, right?

    I have been around long enough to remember..
    78s v 45s
    VHS v Betamax
    Other failures include...
    BBC Acorn Computers.
    8 track.
    Mini disc.
    Lazer disc.
    British Satellite Broadcasting.
    Video 2000.
    Nothing really changes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    If you get a Kobo you can get books for free from your local library.

    The system isn't perfect. They could have more books available and let you take out more for longer.

    The Kobo has a dimension no other eReader has and it's a shame it's been undermarketed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    111 What Mandate

    The difference is a Nook would still be useful even if all your friends have Kindles.

    Besides, It could turn out to be more like Myspace versus Facebook, for all I know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.


  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    It is like comparing Facebook with Google+

    It does not matter how good the new player is, it is simply too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    108. JamesStGeorge

    Actually, the "outdated and dying systems" you decry very probably mercifully saved us from being exposed to the rubbish efforts of a million would-be authors. We've got the web for that. The principal task of a publisher is to filter out the rubbish. Putting the technology in the hands of everyone, doesn't make everyone brilliant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    107. JamesStGeorge

    Skills are not automatically installed with software. In the creative industries, people don't do jobs just because they learned a program.
    The difference between the office typist and the designer is not the software on their computer.
    And friends/partners don't make the best judges of your work.

    I still don't see how you, or your potter, make a living? Please enlighten us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Yes people need some income to live on. It does not need to be from any writing they do. Countless examples of first books written in cafés in lunch breaks etc. Then for the few that do well only then by such outdated and dying systems can they turn it into a living. Great composers earnt their crusts from being an organist or similar, the composing was not for their food, still great.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Why not expect writers to be able to use a spell check? Proof read or have a friend/partner read it? If writers are so bad they need this help new models could develop, like software release early versions for feedback. A hobby potter without a kiln pays for services to complete their work also. Given what has happened to pop music, text producers need to adapt to the inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    96. JamesStGeorge

    I notice you're not exactly plugging these "new things" you make, and supposedly give away for free. If yours is such a great new revolutionary business model, let's see it. Where's your website? Or are you just handing out photocopies at bus-stops?

    Money ––> mouth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    @101 JamesStGeorge

    What I'm saying is that to be good usually takes a lot of practice. To get a lot of practice you need to make a living out of it (so you don't need a 9-5). To make a living you need to be paid for your efforts. You and your kind seem to want a world where everything is mediocre just becuase you want it free. I don't. I want good things and I'm willing to pay for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.


    By your logic, if everyone were given a free piano the world would be full of great music. I somehow don't think that would be the case... :)

    @100 I didn't say 'badly-written'. That's another matter entirely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    101 JamesStGeorge

    Extorts? I don't recall Waterstones threatening to kneecap me if I didn't buy the Complete Works of Shakespeare... although I suppose they me have drugged me afterwards to make me forget that they did. The fiends!!

    If a thing (say, an e-book) costs a fiver and you don't want to pay a fiver for that thing, then don't buy it.

    It's not rocket science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    The only problem I have with e-readers is that electronic text can't be kerned, unlike text physically printed. Only a tiny detail, but this ultimately is why people can't read on screens for too long without hurting their eyes, whereas you can read a real book for hours. A professionally typeset book is designed to make reading easier, but it's work you don't actually 'see'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    So you need fame to be 'good' or just high exploitative values? Well at least a technology that makes cheap or no price copies and extorts considerable sums for them. Strange, mass production normally makes the item cheaper to the public. This con game has had a good run, technology made it, now it is in the process of removing it again, back to normality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    > Or are you happy to be the recipient of badly-edited, unproof-read,
    > badly spelled books?

    I don't see the millions who bought 50 Shades of Grey complaining lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    96. JamesStGeorge
    You're forgetting that the 'free' digital version also requires the input of people other than just the author (if it's to be any good). Do they also work for free? Or are you happy to be the recipient of badly-edited, unproof-read, badly spelled books?
    Nice dream, but unless an author has a whole raft of skills in addition to writing, it's never going to work.


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