Analysis: Nook could pre-empt the rumored Apple tablet

Barnes & Noble CEO says e-readers will bring far-reaching changes to publishing

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Combining the functions of an e-reader with the full multimedia advantages of the Web have been touted as the next generation of computing by some prognosticators, including Daniel Lyons, who wrote in Newsweek this week that the purported tablet devices could speed up the arrival of a "golden age of journalism."

Many tech journalists and analysts scoff when new technologies are referred to as game-changers or products that will reinvent computing, but Lyons contended that full functioning tablets that play video and music and display text while connected to the Internet at all times will help fuel a revolution in the way stories are told.

While Lyons focused on what the coming Apple tablet could offer, the same capabilities seem well within the reach of Barnes & Noble, assuming it equips its Nook with a full browser and open applications. Weiner noted that the bookseller has an advantage over Amazon with its hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores where users can browse with the Nook or other devices, including the iRex e-reader or the coming Que from Plastic Logic that Barnes & Noble also supports. The company is also supporting an open e-book publishing format, e.pub, that Amazon is not, Weiner noted.

Lynch said that having the physical stores will be a "huge benefit" to the success of the Nook, since users will be able to go a store to get help with their devices from workers there.

When asked whether Barnes & Noble could be in the early stages of becoming more of a technology company than a bookseller, Lynch replied that it has already made entries into an e-book device and online store. But despite such efforts, he said that "Barnes & Noble is about reading at its core, and we have an understanding of readers and content. There's a lot of technology, but really it's about reading and the reading set that readers told us they want."

Lynch also said that e-readers will alter the way books are written, read, distributed and published. Books, for example, will be broken into snippets and distributed wirelessly or even sold with alternative endings. "There are all types of models in content and book publishing that haven't been envisioned yet that this technology will unleash," he said.

Barnes & Noble expects e-books to account for less than 5% of all book sales in the next few years, Lynch added, with "minimal impact." However, he said the company is projecting a long-term conversion to digital books and is "committed to giving books to people regardless of the format ... We're the largest bookseller, and with the announcements we've made, we plan to be the largest seller of digital content as well." He also said he agreed with findings from Forrester Research that sales of e-readers will double in 2010, reaching about 6 million sold, up from about 3 million in 2009.

The Nook's announcement is just a starting point, Lynch said. "We see this as just the beginning, as we have a lot more in store, so stay tuned."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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