Nook vs. Kindle: The e-Reader Battle Joined

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When it comes to e-readers, Kindle is the Kleenex, the Band Aid, the Coke of the category – the name synonymous with the entire space …until now. The Nook is out of its cranny and aggressively competing with Kindle by leveraging a very retro advantage it holds over Amazon: bricks-and-mortar.

Barnes & Noble is building 1,000-square-foot boutiques in all of its 720 stores to promote and sell its e-reader. The Nook boutiques (Nooks?) will feature demo tables, sample devices, and employees ready and willing to offer tutelage and advice.

It’s a big advantage – “crucial” says Barnes & Noble: “I think that’s everything. American consumers want to try and hold gadgets before they purchase them,” said William Lynch, CEO Barnes & Noble. [more]

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are in fierce competition for e-reader dominance. The price of the Nook was just lowered from $259 to $199, with Kindle following suit – reduced from $259 to $189.  As of mid-June 600,000 units of the Nooks – available since October 2009 – have been sold. Two million Kindles – on sale since December 2007 – have been purchased, according to Codex Group.

Industry experts predict that the 2010 holiday season will be a kind of coming-out party for  e-readers. And both the retailer and the e-tailer are girding their loins by adding new features hoping to distinguish their brand in the fray.

The latest additions to the Nook 1.3 include: “Read in Store” any book from the B&N ebook catalog daily for up to an hour for free (slower readers can return the next day);  dual internet connectivity (3G and WiFi); lend a friend an ebook for up to two weeks; dip into OverDrive-powered local libraries; open ecosystem that supports Adobe DRM and non-DRM books; browse books by cover; customizable screen saver and color touchscreen with improved contrast; more font choices; and a user-accessible battery.

Kindle Version 2.5 new features include: Folders for organizing books and documents; PDF that supports panning and zooming; password protection against unauthorized book purchases; sharper and larger font choices; highlight and share book passages on Facebook and Twitter direct from your device; identify most highlighted book passages by all readers of a book; half a-million ebook titles available; best book prices and largest choice of magazines and newspapers;  a Read-to-Me feature and support for MP3 and Audible books; battery life of 14 days with wireless off; works in the US and in International locations. 
Overall, the race is tight and Amazon’s Kindle may cede its category dominance, edged out by Nook’s bricks and mortar? Kindle is for sale on Amazon.com, in Target and HMSHost stores. And then there’s the new kid on the digital book block – iPad.

As price and features coalesce amongst all three the question arises: will adding a physical presence to a digital device sell-in make the winning difference?

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