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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.

So you just got an iPhone (and/or iPad)… which ereader app do you need?

[Updates: An alert reader pointed out that Kobo does do ebook previews---I think I just missed it. However, there's still no search and the page-turning/page number situation is still simply awful. On balance, I still think you shouldn't bother with Kobo.

On a happier note (for iBooks fans), iBooks has adopted the Nook's hold-and-swipe highlighting feature, which was my favorite thing about the Nook app. Really, the only thing I liked. Definitely no reason to even try the Nook app now. Three years and counting until Barnes & Noble is bankrupt.

I'll try to keep this space updated with new features, but probably won't.]


Merry Christmas! Several thousand people at least will be unwrapping an iOS device today. Here’s a list of the major ereader apps, and their pros and cons. We’ll see you again on Tuesday, when we go back to regular programming.


iBooks: Perfect for iOS readers

Pros: Buying books through the app store. Great highlighting, syncing, dictionary, and a ton of layout options. Two-page layout on the iPad, and fewer glitches than any other app.

Cons: Doesn’t work on any non-iOS device. Not your Kindle, not your Nook, not any E-Ink ereader. If you want to use one of those devices, you’ll want to use a different app. There isn’t even a desktop version of iBooks, you can only use it on an iPhone or an iPad. There’s also no real iBooks website, and navigating through the Books section of iTunes is a proper pain, so you’ll need to come to the app with a title in mind.

The gist: iBooks is also the only app that will let you buy books through the app store and your iTunes account—that ability is turned off for all other ebook apps. But that ease-of-buying-books is not what makes iBooks the best ereader app; instead, it’s the fact that all the others have significant downsides. iBooks has all the core functions—note-taking, highlighting, search, dictionary, and layout options—and they all work. If your iPhone and/or iPad is your main ereader, look no further for your new favorite app.


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We’ve updated our ereader comparison

The Kobo Touch, our top pick for casual readers.

A whole gaggle of new ereaders hit the market this month, just in time for the holiday season. We’ve updated our ereader comparison for this new slate: find it here, and find out why we don’t believe the hype about the Nook Tablet, and why the Kobo Touch is our top choice for casual readers.

In other news, we’re taking off for the rest of the week for Thanksgiving. We’ll be back on our regular schedule next week, when we’ll kick off our third annual Best Books series.

See you then, and happy Thanksgiving.

[Chamber Four's ereader comparison]

The Nook Tablet Disappoints

The new Nook Tablet looks almost exactly like the old Nook Color.

Barnes & Noble debuted their new ereader, the Nook Tablet, yesterday, and I found it entirely disappointing. It has slightly bumped specs from the original incarnation, the Nook Color, but those specs are largely unnecessary for an ereader, especially since the Nook Color can run all of its headline features.

I’m not disappointed in its specs or form factor, though. If anything, the similarities between these versions show just how solid a device the Nook Color was. Instead, I’m disappointed in Barnes & Noble’s continuing failure of strategy.

Here’s the official demo. Kate, the unnecessary tour guide, doesn’t mention reading until halfway through the video’s four-minute length. Hulu, Netflix, Facebook, web-surfing, Scrabble, Epicurious—all of these things get mentioned before books. These are bonus features. A bookstore’s flagship gadget should first attempt to demonstrate that it’s the best ereader in the world, and then, as a bonus, here are some cool extras like Netflix.

The Nook Tablet video is a structural copy of the Kindle Fire video. That’s another problem. Amazon showcased little to nothing of the Fire’s ereading capabilities. Instead of taking advantage of that oversight, B&N copied it.

The Nook Color/Tablet and the Kindle Fire appear to be more or less interchangeable. There are small differences, like the fact that parents can record audiobooks for their kids on the Nook Tablet. But from those videos, it’s impossible to tell which one is the better ereader, because both treat ereading as an afterthought. Right now, the clearest differentiator between them is their content providers. Barnes & Noble loses that matchup.

When there are signs that B&N isn’t all that interested in selling books anymore, how confident can you be buying ebooks from them? If you buy a Nook Tablet next week, are you still going to be using it in a year? Two years? Is B&N going to be around then? Are they still going to be a bookstore? Are they going to be interested in making sure their Nook Color ereaders keep up with Amazon’s Kindle Fires? The answer to any of these questions is a doubtful maybe.

(Side note: I haven’t had any personal experience with the Nook Tablet. I’m basing my impressions mostly on my own experiences with the first-gen Nook Color, which I bought when it first came out last year. I don’t use it anymore, because I’m afraid books I buy on it will expire in a couple of years, and partially because I got so frustrated with its wasted potential. Its version of the New York Times omitted most of the paper’s web content, like the blogs, videos, and picture galleries. The Nook Color never really had comic books or the New Yorker, cross-content interaction, or many other things I’d like to have seen.)

On the other side of the fence, you can be sure Amazon will still be here in 3 years. You can be sure your Kindle Fire will work well, will be safe and functional if not cutting edge, and will have a staggering array of content.

I said when I saw this little product card last week that B&N was heading in entirely the wrong direction. (I mean, from that sheet, can you even tell it’s supposed to be an ereader?) So sound the dirge trumpet, the B&N deathwatch has begun. Don’t buy a Nook Color this Christmas, I think you’ll regret it.

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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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…

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 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).

 

CES eReader Reaction: In Which My Excitement For the Alex and the QUE Is Crushed By Outrageous Price Points

You can buy a Nook, a Kindle, and a Sony Reader Touch for the QUE's asking price

So CES officially opened today and, sure enough, prices were announced for the Spring Design Alex and the Plastic Logic QUE. Up until today, I would’ve classified the Alex and the QUE as the two most exciting new ereaders. Then I saw how they’ll cost: The Alex is going for $399, and the QUE is $649 with WiFi, $800 (!!?) with 3G.

Yesterday, I guessed that the Alex would go for $350, and the QUE for $500. I considered those conservative estimates; i.e., I was ready to be pleasantly surprised. Eesh, was I ever wrong.

The big takeaway from these price announcements is simply that ereader manufacturers don’t care about the casual reader. These devices are getting more expensive, not less, and that’s not a trend that’s going to steal the Kindle’s thunder anytime soon.

But there’s more to glean from six digits and a couple dollar signs.


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