Barnes and Noble’s innovative Nook e-reader, with its neat color-LCD screen, promises to really shake-up electronic publishing. But now it looks like the company’s struggling to meet pre-order quotas, so it’s delaying in-store sales–leaving empty some rather large displays that have already been installed to showcase the device. This will be analyzed as both good and bad news for the bookselling chain.
First, the good news: The Nook is of great interest to the gadget-loving and publishing worlds because it looks like a real competitor for Amazon’s Kindle–both technologically (since you could argue it’s really what the Kindle 2 should have been like) and from a big-name publishing backer point of view. It looks well designed, far better than any Kindle yet seen, and it’ll have an extensive library of titles from an established name. Both points could make it attractive in the nascent e-book-buying marketplace. The company’s bricks-and-mortar stores also offer a sales channel that Amazon can’t compete with, since getting your hands on one and trying it out could easily convince many potential buyers–a business model that works exceptionally well for Apple hardware.
B&N recently said they’d sold out of the Nook because of higher-than-expected demand, and today the company is saying it’s going to delay shipping units for sale in stores because of continuing supply versus demand problems in the run-up to the holiday season. The team is apparently working hard to deliver the November pre-orders before Christmas, though later orders may have to wait until January. And instead of being available today in-store, you’ll have to wait until at least December 7th if you want to buy one in person–though you’ll have to be quick as the numbers are likely to be very limited, and it’ll only be sold in the bigger B&N outlets. That does sound extremely positive, a big tick in the “this is going to be a success” box for the Nook, and a strong suggestion that B&N’s technological gamble will pay off.
Now the bad: The delay could be a sign that B&N put in a massive under-order for the device because it wasn’t confident in its plans, or is having trouble on the manufacturing side. And don’t forget the controversy over the Nook’s design. This could be a doubly bad sign if the company’s also bungling its effort to create a sales ecosystem to support the Nook–and it absolutely needs an integrated sales channel to be successful. There’s even a third grim angle on this news: Too much of a delay could mean the Nook doesn’t generate any kind of snowballing popularity among the public. And then, if Amazon quickly pulls a Kindle 3 out of its back pocket, and the much-expected Apple iTablet surfaces sooner rather than later in 2010, then these will seriously threaten the Nook’s future by grabbing huge chunks of its potential market away.