In brief: The Nook death knell gets louder

We’ve had the Nook ereader family on our Do Not Buy list for quite a while now, since the first ominous portents from B&N HQ. A year and a half ago, B&N announced they were no longer quite so interested in selling books, then they announced they’d be closing stores altogether—a lot of them over the next decade. We thought that sounded like an optimistic plan because it implied they would be around in a decade.

Now we can go ahead and cut the projected lifespan of B&N in half. News came out this weekend that Barnes & Noble wants to “move away” from its Nook business because the business is still not profitable. You know what’s even less profitable? A retail bookstore chain with no ebook strategy. Isn’t that right, Borders? …. Borders? Hello?

To make matters worse, B&N is considering selling off its retail bookstore business, severing it from the $250-million-loss-per-year Nook business and effectively destroying any chance of Nook survival. The only advantage the Nook has is prominent placement in physical stores.

The moral of this story for readers is simple: Do not buy a Nook. It is doomed, and there’s very little guarantee that your content will be safe (or your hardware will be tech-supported) after B&N dies.

For industry watchers, there’s still a question: When, exactly, will B&N, specifically the Nook division, kick the bucket? I was estimating 2020 before, but this greatly speeds up the clock. My new guess is 2015. I wouldn’t be so surprised if it lasted until 2016, but I don’t think it’ll last any longer than that.

Quick Thoughts On the New Nook Color Firmware Update

About two weeks ago, Barnes & Noble released the first major Nook Color firmware update to minor fanfare, which included an app store and various other improvements.

The update was four months late, first scheduled for January, and those four months, frankly, didn’t help much. I’ve spent the past couple weeks tooling around with the new Nook Color, and while there are definite improvements, nothing has really changed. If you want to root it, you’ll still want to (and here’s how). If you’re not interested in the Nook Color, you still won’t be. And if you were mildly frustrated by its wasted potential (like me), you’ll still be frustrated.

It’s a great device and a great deal—especially compared to the oversized iPad and the overpriced every-Android-tablet-out-there. It’s still great fun to use, it still does movies, it still does books and magazines and Pandora. But, it could be so much more.

When the Nook Color came out, I wrote a post about what I’d like to see in it, or what I thought it had the potential to be. This firmware update addresses some of those issues, but not nearly enough of them; I’ll break it all down in bullet points, after the break.
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What I Want to See in the Nook Color

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Nook Color, and found it good, but unfinished. While it has its share of problems, almost every one of them could be fixed with software adjustments and firmware updates. Here’s my wish list for the big update rumored to be scheduled for January.

Smooth edges

The biggest problem with the Nook Color is that its interface needs some smoothing. It sometimes takes an extra tap to wake the screen up, and navigating—especially in magazines—can be laggy and frustrating.

This isn’t the first time B&N has rushed a Nook to market: when the original Nook came out last year (just in time for the holidays), most reviews agreed that its interface was similarly laggy, and in later months B&N improved it markedly. Hopefully that happens again here.

Fix note-taking

Right now, you have to pin each note you take to a patch of text, and the firmware doesn’t distinguish between notes and regular highlights. If it did distinguish, and gave you more note-taking options (like, for instance, taking notes in magazines), it would make this a much more desirable device for students.

I’d also like to see more integration with a word processor—perhaps in the next hardware generation this could even happen through Bluetooth.

Apps – Instapaper, Goodreads, Evernote, Etc.

I desperately want Instapaper on this puppy, especially an Instapaper app that auto-downloads everything you’ve sent to your account, so you could read everything offline, like the way the Nook already does newspapers.

I’d also love to see an Overdrive app for managing library books and library audiobooks, a Goodreads and/or Copia app for social reading, a Google Editions app, and Evernote for proper note-taking. All of these (except probably the Overdrive app) are well within the range of possibility. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Wattpad, Smashwords, Scribd, the list goes on.
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Device Review: Nook Color

Overview: B

The home screen features a desktop with resizable icons for books and periodicals, and a "Daily Shelf" row at the bottom where new content automatically appears.

The Nook Color is Barnes & Noble’s new full-color LCD ereader, retailing now for $250 (more specs below). Basically, it has phenomenal potential, but it’s unfinished, which means we don’t yet know exactly how good it will be. 90% of the problems I have with the device could be solved with firmware fixes—I’m guessing B&N will roll out a major new firmware update in January, with the launch of the Nook Color app store. But I’m also guessing they won’t be able to fix every one of these problems.

Right now, this is still a very appealing ereader—and it is an ereader. If you’re looking for a tablet computer, get an iPad. But if you want a device for reading, and you want to read books, newspapers, and magazines, the Nook Color is well worth the money, and it’s only going to get better.

Let’s get into the details.
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Nook Color Debut: Overview & Link Roundup

Barnes & Noble unveiled the Nook Color yesterday. Here are some specs, thoughts, observations, and links.

Specs and overview: The Nook Color is a 7-inch color touchscreen Android-powered ereader, retailing at $250. It will ship Nov. 19, and it’ll be in stores soon after that. It has WiFi, but no 3G, and an LCD screen instead of Pixel Qi or Mirasol (which would give it better battery life) because of price considerations and performance.

It’s difficult to get good hard spec numbers right now, especially processor speed and memory capacity, but it has micro SD expandable storage, and it comes with an 8 Gb card (16 Gb cards run about $30). It supports Adobe ePub and “boasts” an 8-hour battery life with WiFi off (I’d say you shouldn’t hope for more than 3-4 hours with WiFi on). Battery life is its weak point, without a doubt.

That said, there’s a whole lot to like here. Despite tech blogs keying on the word “tablet,” this is not a tablet computer, it’s a (possibly excellent) color LCD ereader. Real tablet computers of decent production value are very expensive, like the iPad starting at $500, and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab starting at $600. Anything much cheaper than the Nook Color, like the Pandigital Novel at $180, is too crappy to use. So do not expect the best Android tablet out there, expect a great magazine/newspaper reader, with a few perks.

Weird/cool bonus features: You can now take your Nook to a Barnes & Noble store, and read any part of any ebook in their catalog, for up to one hour a day, at which point, you presumably have to get up and go find the paper copy. With the Nook Color, you can also share passages from books via Facebook or Twitter, and lend (or evidently request to borrow) ebooks from friends.

You can also still get library ebooks, and read your ebooks on your phone or desktop via Nook apps available on most platforms (the Nook apps are quite nice, much better than Kobo in my opinion). However, I have little hope for the dedicated, curated Nook Color app store. Nook apps will not challenge iPad apps anytime soon.

Thoughts on content: One of the things I learned this summer after publishing our fiction anthology is that Barnes & Noble does its content right. I’ve been very skeptical of their ereader endeavors in the past, but they are clearly committed to ebooks, and committed to providing content. The same simply cannot be said of Apple and its lackluster ebookstore. If the hardware holds up, the Nook Color will be outstanding for readers.

The bottom line: If you want a tablet to play games, watch movies, email, Twitter, etc., get an iPad. But if you want a tablet primarily to read—especially to read magazines, newspapers, kids’ books, etc.—then the Nook Color is your clear front-runner. I don’t hold out any hope for a competitive or even decent app store, but the content will be there, in a way it’s not on the iPad.

Feel free to wait until you can lay your hands on one in stores to test its interface; that and its battery are its obvious potential weak spots in the early running. Basically, for the right user, this device makes a whole lot of sense.

Things I’m unsure of: How well will its interactivity work? Will it be able to highlight and note-take in a useful manner, as no E-Ink reader currently can? Will my grandmother be able to use it? If so, the Nook Color could be even better. I initially assumed the Nook Color would have lots of comic books, but haven’t seen confirmation; if no, that seems like a big oversight.

Some more links: Here’s a hands-on video at Engadget. Engadget says it’s sluggish, but the video has me sold. TeleRead has a video of the release event here—I usually hate product launch events, but some crazy dancing pageantry makes the first 3 and a half minutes pretty watchable indeed. (Second half here and Paul Biba’s write-up of the event here.) Various other impressions by ZDNet, Salon, publishing Twittersphere reactions. And the Nook Color page at B&N.

Wednesday Links 4-21-10

Want more or more frequent links? Follow C4 on Twitter, and get at least as much as, and possibly more than, you can handle.

  • I enjoyed this article about big P Publishing’s woes. (I have an MFA from Emerson, and I wish I didn’t. They exemplify the watered-down publishing industry at its very base level. Rumor has it, teachers can’t fail even atrocious theses–and they certainly exist. Of those hundred books, I’d bet 92 are babytown frolics.)

hey now, Jess Walter!
while we should read your book now
don’t steal our ideas

Wednesday Links 3-24-10

  • Everyone seems to be touting the Great eReader Adoption as an iPad-Kindle war, but the Nook still looms (and also sports an iPad app) and the Alex is still on the way (and still overpriced). However if terrible customer service like this around haphazard products is what can be expected from Barnes & Noble, the Nook won’t stand much of a chance. Perhaps I don’t really understand why international buyers can’t have an instant download over the internet already, but I guess Diesel-ebooks allowing instant international “delivery” of ebooks is a good thing. (Really though, what do mail carriers have to do with ebooks, and what does “an innovative and evolutionary free digital shipping promotion” mean?)
  • This year I’m once again a second round judge for the Amazon Breakout Novel Award. I obviously can’t talk specifics about the books, but it’s a pretty cool program so I wanted to stick in a link so more people could check it out. I like when the big guys open the doors for the small fries. You can see a full list of the entrants now, and if it’s run like last year’s was, more information about the books will be available once the short lists are narrowed down.

Wednesday Links 2-24-10

Wednesday Links 1-27-10

  • Basically, nobody wants to shut up about the new Apple tablet (supposedlydubbed the iPad–consider it nominated for this week’s dumbest new ereader name award). It’s slated to be revealed today, so I’m not going to bother parsing out the rumors. This one bit about pricing strategies and the coming battle between Apple and Amazon is interesting though. Not sure where B&N is in all this. I guess they probably shouldn’t have f-ed up the Nook launch so badly. Perhaps they are waiting for a boost from Apple? If you’re foolishish enough to get a first generation iPad (thus ignoring Apple’s track record of vastly superior second gen devices), here are some other fun uses for it.
  • It looks like Asus’s EeeReader (or are they Asustek?) will have two models. Acer’s got one running Chrome. Then there’s Mustek. And the Lenovo Tianji. And Endless Ideas has a WiFi BeBook Neo. There’s the Oppo Enjoy (dumbest name: winner). Copia is still hanging around. Even Nintendo is getting in the fray, selling romance novels on their DS. Man, the market is officially awash.
  • Amazon has quietly laxed their DRM policies. So quietly that hardly anyone has noticed. In what could be an enourmous shift, Apple will allow iTunes users to store libraries in the cloud, rather than their harddrives (hopefully it doesn’t require a .Mac subscription). Besides fighting with China, Google is also in a tiff with its old buddy Apple. This may lead to Apple dumping Google integration from their devices and adopting Bing, which is of course owned by–Mac geeks are fainting left and right over this, I’m sure–the evil Microsoft. Regardless of Google’s early success (maybe) with Android’s apps, Apple is still the undisputed ruler of App-land.
  • It’s kinda old news, but apparently colleges are being sued for using ereaders  in classrooms because blind students can’t use them. How using a braille edition to supplement a Kindle (which reads books–poorly–out loud) is less fair than if the other students use deadtree, I do not understand. It won’t help the blind, but if you’ve no backlight on your ereader and can’t figure out how to turn on your lamp, try this dongle. This Boogie Board doodle toy isn’t an ereader (and probably isn’t much use to anyone not a basketball coach) but it does seem pretty cool, and uses no power at that.
  • We’ll be posting on Friday about some of the many changes we have planned for our second year. There’s a lot of good stuff planned, and we’ll be getting bigger and better as time goes on. Check back Friday for that.
  • I really like this comic explaining proper semicolon use; there’s also one for the apostrophe. Also at The Oatmeal, the best Twilight review I’ve yet read (yes, I read the books). Everyone in this school district should be given a lobotomy. And Scholastic Surprise! should chill on this one and use their noggins. Finally, Farmville is stupid (no link, just spouting the truth).

Wednesday Links: 12-30-09

Here’s our last links update of the decade. First though, we’ve updated our eReader Comparison page as well as our Best Ways to Get eBooks, so check them out. Both will be seeing quite a few more updates in the coming weeks and months as much is happening with ereaders and ebook sellers. In fact, we’ve got a lot of changes planned for C4 in the near future as well; we’ll be posting on many of them at some point in January. Also, be sure to check out our Best Books of 2009 series if you haven’t already. We’ll be continuing the series through January.