Barnes & Noble is to expand its e-book service internationally next year, the company's chief executive has said. The development was revealed at the company's New York press conference at which it unveiled its $249 Nook Tablet, a direct competitor to Amazon's Kindle Fire and the Apple iPad.
William Lynch, chief executive of Barnes and Noble, told The Bookseller that publishers and consumers in the UK should expect an announcement within the next four months about the Nook going international. "We want to do it right," he commented. The comment has prompted speculation that the US chain could do a deal with Waterstone's, which has previously announced that it intends to develop an e-reader.
The B&N press event marked the launch of the $249 Nook Tablet, in stores beginning next week; and major enhancements and price changes to the Nook Color – reduced from $249 to $199, matching the Kindle Fire; and Nook Simple Touch – reduced from $139 to $99, and unlike Kindle Touch, with no "annoying" ads. (An ad-free $99 Kindle Touch costs $139.)
B&N's share of the ebook market in the US is 27%. Publishers want that share to grow. No publisher would speak on the record about Amazon, but as one executive at the launch put it bluntly, "We are all hoping that B&N will compete successfully. We need them to do so. Amazon engages in thuggish tactics and treats the whole book business as a loss leader."
However, B&N, unlike Barack Obama, has not waited to take off the gloves. Everything about the press conference was an aggressive counterpunch to its main rival and its tactics. Lynch declared that the Kindle Fire "is a vending machine for Amazon services that locks consumers in to their ecosystem. We have a different strategy, much more open, partnering with the world's most popular services like Netflix and Pandora. We want to let consumers choose for themselves."
Lynch is pushing hard the image of B&N-as-innovator. "We are designing to be pioneering, trying to lead, not follow." With the Nook Color it "concepted a new class of product" a year ago; even the eInk technology used in the Simple Touch is a "breakthrough," the page-turns 25% faster than any eInk competitor.
Now, with movies and TV in HD (NetFlix and Hulu Plus have been preloaded for streaming); 11.5 hours of reading/nine hours of video-viewing from a battery half the weight of an iPad's; a 14.1 ounce total device weight, less than the Kindle Fire; 1GB RAM; 1 GHz dual core processor; 16 GB of storage (as opposed to Kindle Fire's 8GB); fully laminated VividView display with superior viewing angle; Pandora for music; a store of 2.5 million books, 250 interactive periodicals and 35 "special edition" magazines for the holidays; the largest third-party collection of Marvel Comics (as opposed to Kindle Fire's exclusive DC hook-up); and building on Nook Color's core juvenile strength of 1,000 interactive picture books and 12,000 chapter books, a new "Read and Record" feature allowing parents to read aloud the text of a picture book and save it so their child can hear their voice at any time, Lynch proclaimed that the Nook Tablet is "hands down the best media tablet in the 7" class".
And then there's that other element. "Where would you go to talk to an expert if you had a question about a Kindle Fire? Would you go to Amazon's headquarters in Seattle?" Lynch teased. "We have 700 stores with 40,000 trained booksellers offering in-store support."
Jamie Iannone, president of digital products, said that B&N had added "a hundred enhancements" to the Nook Color, and that the Nook Simple Touch allows you to read an hour a day for two months on a single battery charge, double the reading time of Kindle Touch. The updates to the two devices will push automatically; the customer won't have to do anything to access them.
The Nook Tablet launch will be the largest campaign in B&N history, with TV commercials and print ads featuring James Patterson, Danielle Steel, and Jane Lynch, the star of Glee.