Tuesday, August 31, 2010

E-reader faceoff: Kindle or Nook? Here's a comparison


Amazon boasts a library of more than 630,000 books, while B&N says it has more than a million. Beware of those figures, though, as many of the B&N books are older, public domain books available for free on both platforms. Amazon does not include those books in its tally.

Some authors have been coaxed to sign exclusivity agreements with one store or the other (only Amazon has the most recent Salman Rushdie novel, for example). So it's smart to go online and do a spot check of your favorite authors before committing to an e-reader.

Mary Ellen Keating, Barnes & Noble spokesperson, emailed to tell us that Barnes & Noble is planning “to have Nook eBook readers in stock in the majority of its stores by the peak holiday season and plans to have Nook devices in stock in all of its stores by early next year.”

It looks like the online-only policy is simply a way to manage supply issues at the beginning of the Nook’s life.

In a curious case of inverting expectations, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are switching roles. Last week Amazon announced that it would begin same-day shipping in some large cities, in an effort to further marginalize brick and mortar stores. Now Barnes & Noble is squandering a major advantage over Amazon — its retail outlets — by only offering the new Nook e-reader online.

If you walk into all but the biggest of B&N’s emporia, you will be able to play with a demo unit but not actually buy one to take home. According to Staci D. Kramer of Paid Content, “the booksellers will order a device for in-store customers from the BN.com website to be shipped to their home.”

Given that the only reason to actually buy from a store is to get the goods right now, this seems rather foolish, especially as one of the Nook’s big features is that you can read e-books for free whilst in a B&N store.

We’re assuming that this isn’t policy but pragmatism: It’s likely that the Nook will only be available in limited numbers at launch, and spreading them thinly across retail outlets is probably worse than just shipping them. What’s funny, though, is that this shows up the inefficiency of the bricks and mortar model compared to Amazon’s rather slick online-only operation. There’s an irony in there somewhere.

Only on Nook: In-store perks

Here's a big advantage for Nook: While using one inside an actual B&N store, readers can browse and read entire books for free.

Another perk on Nook is the ability to lend most books to a friend. Readers can send a book to a friend's Nook for up to 14 days.

Only on Kindle: Reading aloud

The Kindle includes the option to have a book read to you. That's an important consideration for those with poor eyesight -- or if you just like being read to.

Mobile apps: Books everywhere

Because the real goal for retailers here is to sell you e-books, not e-readers, Amazon and B&N have gone to great lengths to make sure you can read purchased e-books on any device you'd like.

Both platforms have free dedicated apps for the PC, Mac, Android-based smartphones and the Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Books read on each device will automatically hold your place on all the others.

Availability: Kindle sold out

Pre-orders for the Kindle 3 have been so brisk that Amazon has had to push the ship date from Aug. 27 to early September. New orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis online.

The Nook is available now, both online at bn.com and at B&N stores.

Price: A moving target

When Barnes & Noble announced a $60 price drop to $199 for the 3G Nook this summer, Amazon announced a new price for the Kindle -- $189 -- just hours later.

When the Kindle 3 is released next month, it will be the new price champ at $139 for the WiFi-only model, but don't expect it to hold that title long. Especially as we approach the holiday shopping season, there's no telling how low these e-readers will go.


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