Tis the season for new electronics and Barnes & Noble (s BKS) is hopping on the bandwagon with a new e-reader, the Nook GlowLight. At $119, the front-lit touchscreen e-reader, announced and available in stores and at BN.com Wednesday, is the updated version of the the $99 Nook SimpleTouch with GlowLight.
What’s new here? As with Amazon’s Kindle (s AMZN) Paperwhite, which started shipping in September, changes are largely incremental: A “warm white” silicone case, improved light, smoother page turns and new fonts. But those of you who like to store a LOT of ebooks should take note: The Nook GlowLight doubles the older model’s storage capacity from 2 GB to 4 GB, providing room for over 2,000 ebooks. That is also double the storage capacity of the Kindle Paperwhite. (On the other hand, the GlowLight lacks the microSD slot that the previous model had, so if you wanted to expand the device’s storage even more, you’re out of luck.)
The GlowLight, which does not have ads, at $119 costs the same as the Kindle Paperwhite with ads. The old GlowLight still costs $99 but B&N will no longer sell it at BN.com or in its stores, though it may be available through third-party retailers like Staples.
|Nook GlowLight Highlights and Specs|
|6.5x5x0.42?, 6.2 ounces|
|E-Ink Pearl touchscreen; E-Ink “Regal waveform technology” claims to eliminate flashing during page turns|
|Up to 8 weeks of battery life, based on 30 minutes of reading/day with light on or off and Wi-Fi off|
|4 GB of storage can hold up to 2,000 ebooks|
Barnes & Noble has updated the GlowLight’s software as well, to offer personalized book recommendations. So now you’ll see “Nook Channels,” with themes like “Books to Talk About” and “History Buff” — previously introduced for Nook’s tablets last year — on your e-reader. The channels, along with a “Picked Just For you” feature, aim to offer human-curated recommendations based on the books that users have already bought.
These recommendation features are one of the main ways that Barnes & Noble is trying to stand apart from Amazon. During a demo, company executives stressed to me that “our expert booksellers are doing all the hand curation” to provide an experience “a lot more similar to the experience you get in a store.” The idea the company is trying to promote is that people regularly walk into their neighborhood Barnes & Noble and ask a friendly employee for a book recommendation. Barnes & Noble is using much of the same “shop local” language that independent bookstores use to convince shoppers that its product is superior to Amazon’s.
Will shoppers be convinced? Revenue from the Nook division was down 20 percent in the most recent quarter, with both device sales and digital content sales declining, though it’s possible Barnes & Noble’s tablets are dragging down results more than e-readers are. Back in June, then-CEO William Lynch said that “the majority of [the company’s] content sales come from non-tablets” and that e-readers have been B&N’s “primary customer acquisition vehicle for content.”
Doug Carlson, Barnes & Noble’s new EVP of digital content and marketing (and a former Zinio exec), told me that there’s “still a huge opportunity in the market for new entrants” — i.e., people who are buying an e-reader for the first time — and that lots of people own both an e-reader and a tablet. “I predict we’ll see even more of that,” he said, referring to people who already own a tablet and then buy an e-reader. A bit of recent research from Pew suggests this could be true, but we’ll have to wait and see, and some proof will be in Barnes & Noble’s holiday earnings.