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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.

Banning Lendle is Really Dumb

News of Amazon shutting Lendle down today marks another sad chapter in the history of modern publishing.

Lendle, as the name implies, was a site that helped Kindle users utilize the lending feature included in some Kindle ebooks. They don’t pirate books or sell lending credits or increase the amount you can lend, they’re only a sophisticated bulletin board to match up borrowers and lenders.

When I first read that they’d been shut down, I was furious—but really, it makes a lot of sense. Amazon has never thought much of lending ebooks—it’s never allowed library ebooks on the Kindle, and when Barnes & Noble first announced the Nook’s LendMe feature, Bezos denounced it for being “extremely limited.” When Amazon caved and copied that exact lending feature, their execution of it was both obnoxious to use and riddled with bugs.

So, obviously Bezos wants credit for reader-friendly features like ebook lending, but doesn’t want customers to actually use those features, no matter how “limited” he claims they are. File this one under: another reason not to buy a Kindle.

The good news: you can still find people to borrow and share ebooks with, at such sites as BooksForNooks.comK BooksForMyEreader.com (formerly BooksForMyKindle, but they probably got cease-and-desisted), and eBookFling.com. At eBookFling, you can actually buy a lending credit (reportedly for $1.99), so you don’t have to own a single Kindle book to borrow them. Personally, I would’ve shut that site down and left Lendle up, but far be it from me to tell Bezos how to polish his head.

This is going to be an interesting one to watch, we haven’t had an AmazonFail in a while…

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 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 12-16-2009

Before we get to the links, a little site promotion: I was Christmas shopping for books today and I wanted to get a mystery novel for my grandfather. Where did I look? Why the C4 Book Reviews section of course. Give it another peek, maybe you’ll find some gift ideas of your own. Also, check out our Best Books of 2009 feature, which will be updated Mondays through January. Well, enough of that…

Wednesday Links 12-02-2009

Wow, been a while. Here’s a healthy collection of links to make up for the last few weeks. And if you’re sick of my style, fear not: Nico is back and will be helming next week’s edition.

Wednesday Links 11-4-2009

So after taking last Wednesday off for haiku, we’re back with two weeks’ worth of scuttlebutt:

  • Creative (maker of the iPod’s poor, homely, and ignored cousin) threw their hat into the ring with the Zii Mediabook.  I’d like to go on the record as saying this is an even dumber name than Nook or Alex. Speaking of, the makers of the Alex have sued Barnes & Noble over the Nook’s dual screen design. Also with dual screens, I can’t decide if the Entourage Edge looks cool or crappy, but I’m leaning toward crappy.
  • The inexpensive Jetbook Lite is available now (thanks to reader Ben for the heads up). And on the horizon, ASUS wants in the ereader game after all their netbook success. And so does Bridgestone, after all their tire success? It’s bendy, which is cool. Apparently there are some snazzy new E-Ink processor chips in the pipeline, so hopefully we’ll seem even more creative new tech soon. Lots of ereader hype this selling season, might we finally be at the verge of the Great eReader Adoption?
  • Up for some light reading? How about an ebook about mail order Russian brides? These ebook “covers” are so cheesy they’re funny. I find the idea of a cloud library pretty intriguing. And I’m definitely in favor of ebook happy hour, too bad they only serve well books.
  • Outside of ebooks, a new Beatles b-side has been discovered, as has the creepiest thing I’ve seen–except for maybe Wii Baby and Me–in a long while: a ventriloquist choir singing “Yesterday.”
  • and finally, I’m mesmerized by this Carl Sagan auto-tune video:

Wednesday Links 10-21-2009

Wednesday again. As usual, let’s start off with ereaders and go from there.
  • The Barnes & Noble ereader (maybe named Athena or Nook) is looking pretty snazzy. It’s rumored to be priced competitively at $259; it’s got dual screens and runs on Android. Not to be outdone, so does the mysterious Spring Design’s Alex. Plastic Logic also released some details on their upcoming device, the QUE, which looks pretty sleek and will be available in just a few months.
  • Google has decided to launch an ebook store called Google Editions., which got the Frankfurt Book Fair atwitter. Walmart wants in too, so they will begin selling ebooks on Walmart.com. For the most part I find Walmart to be just about the most evil corporation on the planet, but it will be interesting to see what effect this has on ebook prices, beyond the current scuffle with Amazon–and what formats they make available.
  • German parliament bought a buttload of ereaders for some reason. And, might we see ebooks in bookstores soon? Aussies will. Corey Doctorow put an interesting piece for Publisher’s Weekly about ebooks and why he thinks they can be free. Read this interesting response to a savage review of Jonathan Lethem’s new book. Find a great “captain” Ahab or Poe tee shirt over at Novel-T.
  • For fun this week: Ugliest Tattoos is funny stuff. Until 10/25 you can get the awesome World of Goo (Mac/PC/Linux) legally and name your own price. This Brit video is pretty funny/clever.
  • And, finally, if you are the Russian spammers overloading our comments, please stop. It’s really annoying. (We’ve been scrambling to get the spam cleaned up, so we apologize to any commenters if your post gets deleted by mistake. Feel free to email us if this happens to you and we’ll get your post reactivated.)

Stealing the Kindle’s Killer Feature: What the B&N eReader Does (kind of) Well

bnappI’m a book reader. I read some news on the web, the odd magazine, but mostly I’m a book reader. As such, the Kindle’s Whispernet has never really kicked me in the envy glands. I don’t need daily content updates, so I only connect my Sony Reader to my computer about once a month to stock up on ebooks.

For me, the Sony’s ability to borrow library ebooks far outweighs the Kindle’s wireless connectivity. (Almost every other non-Amazon ereader can borrow library ebooks, too. Check out our ereader comparison for more quick details on ereaders.)

But there’s one Kindle feature that I have envied: first chapter previews. There are many ebooks I would never have bought or borrowed if I could’ve read the first chapter beforehand, but until now there have only been a few feeble attempts from non-Amazon ebookstores to duplicate this feature.

The Barnes & Noble eReader, though, didn’t copy it—they just stole it, and that might have been the best decision their eReader team made.


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