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Don't Underestimate the Barnes & Noble Nook


Barnes & Noble released their quarterly earnings today, and while overall the company took a loss, in one category they seem to have outstripped not only the public's expectations but their own: digital.

In the ebook narrative, we sometimes forget about Barnes & Noble. Amazon has achieved metonymic recognition for its Kindle—a flight attendant recently asked me, while pointing at my Sony Pocket Reader, if I could turn off my "Kindle"—and Apple has attracted tremendous excitement and buzz with its iBookstore.

But Barnes & Noble has a fine ebook reader of its own, the Nook, and its multi-platform Nook software (iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, PC, Mac) is uniformly excellent. The store is well stocked, by most accounts significantly larger than Kindle's, and its prices for both hardware and content are competitive. It also offers a few key advantages, including a cool lending feature and support for rented library ebooks. According to Barnes & Noble's quarterly report, customers have noticed.

The company calls sales "nothing short of spectacular" and "consistently above plan," both for new customers and existing members. Nook owners who were previous Barnes & Noble "Members" have increased their spending by 20% since the purchase, and 25% of all Nook customers are new to Barnes & Noble's online market. Though Barnes & Noble doesn't suggest what that might mean in terms of market share, the company does note this little tidbit:

In nine short months, since the launch of its NOOK eBook Reader, and one year after it entered the eBook arena, Barnes & Noble has already achieved greater market share in digital books than it has in physical books.

Seeing as how Barnes & Noble is the number one bookseller in the country with a market share of around 16%, that suggests its market share in ebooks could be near 20%, as we'd heard.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one—you'll have to do the legwork yourself).