Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Nook - The Not Ready for Prime Time Reader?

Working models of the new Barnes & Noble Nook have finally made their way into the hands of reviewers and the reaction is not what Barnes & Noble hoped for - not even close.

I have taken a look at the dummy version that most B&N stores have been displaying for a while now, and my experience made me wonder how in the world so many people were willing to spend almost $300 on an e-book reader before first seeing it actually work. The display models don't even include a battery (or the equivalent weight of a battery), making them deceptively lighter than they will be when functional and, until one sees the actual display of the reader, there is no way to judge what the experience of reading a book on it will be like. Is it easy on your particular eyes - or not? Is the contrast right for you? I don't think I would have gambled $300 to find out but, according to Barnes & Noble, thousands of folks did just that.

There is "Not much love for Barnes & Noble Nook" according to The Christian Science Monitor:
The experts have finally gotten their hands on the device and the consensus among the media technorati seems to be: too little, too soon.
[...]
The color touch screen, writes David Pogue in the New York Times, “is actually just a horizontal strip beneath the regular Kindle-style gray screen.” Too often, he says, “the color strip feels completely, awkwardly disconnected from what it’s supposed to control on the big screen above.” Worse, he finds the screen to be “balky and nonresponsive.”

Reviewing the Nook for USA Today, Edward C. Baig (who overall finds the device to be “unfinished and sluggish”) notes although Barnes & Noble advertises that “a million titles are available for the Nook compared with more than 390,000 in the Kindle Store,” the comparison is “somewhat misleading, because Barnes & Noble includes a boatload of free public domain books, most from Google.”

And as for loaning books to your friends, Pogue says that the feature comes with a number of “buzz kill footnotes.”

He details: “You can’t lend a book unless its publisher has O.K.’ed this feature. And so far, B&N says, only half of its books are available for lending — only one-third of the current best sellers. (A LendMe icon on the B&N Web site lets you know when a book is lendable.) Furthermore, the book is gone from your own Nook during the loan period (a maximum of two weeks). And each book can be lent only once, ever.”
These reviews, and other comments I've seen make me wonder if Barnes & Noble has made a big mistake by rushing their e-book reader into this year's Christmas market. As a matter of fact, they have largely missed even that market as many thousands of the readers already sold will not be delivered until sometime in January, at best. Now it seems that they might be hurt by early word-of-mouth about the product because they have pushed it out into the real world before it is quite ready.

I don't doubt that the Nook will get a whole lot better than it appears to be right now. Firmware updates will likely solve most of the "sluggishness" issues this first version of the reader appears to have, for instance. But the company does risk irritating a large segment of the exact market it so desperately wants to capture. Today's market is one in which word-of-mouth can make or break a new product in record time or, at the very least, damage an already shaky one. I hope the Nook does not turn out to be the case of a good product killed by poor marketing decisions. Time will tell.

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