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Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) is burning early adopters.
Its first wave of Nook e-book readers was supposed to ship out to tech-savvy booklovers on Monday. Instead, the only device-related shipment that day was a "nook is Shipping Soon" blog entry.
"We are beginning to ship this week, and are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that everyone who ordered a nook before Nov. 20 will receive it by Dec. 25," reads the missive.
If that sounds mildly optimistic, you should read most of the more than 70 reader comments to the blog entry. The earliest buyers are being told that their readers may be two weeks late, with many apparently offered $10 gift cards or expedited shipping as consolation prizes.
That approach doesn't seem to be working. Commenters continue to fume.
That's a pity, because Barnes & Noble had a shot to make a dent in the momentum of Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Kindle and keep Sony (NYSE: SNE ) in check. Missing the 2009 holiday season could be huge, especially if Amazon and Kindle split up market share before the inevitable arrival of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) rumored tablet.
What will Barnes & Noble be able to show for its efforts? Instead of rolling out units to be sold in stores, supply delays now find Barnes & Noble only sending demo units to high-traffic stores next week. In other words, the company isn't even comfortable in putting out a date in which Nooks will be available for in-store purchase. The only choice is to pre-order a nook -- online or at any local B&N store -- but the latest orders are being tagged with a preliminary ship date of January 11.
We saw this before. Amazon also stumbled out of the gate two years ago. However, it didn't have to contend with the appetite for electronic books, the established market leader, or the timeliness urgency that its Kindle has now created in the e-reader market.
Some will argue that a lack of product only spikes demand, but Barnes & Noble can't play that game. Initial orders should have already been delivered this week. Delays should have been communicated more clearly ahead of time. Infuriating the folks who were willing to buy a Nook sight unseen isn't good business.
The Nook is promising on paper. The ability to share books and the dual-screen layout are exciting. Unfortunately, Nook's first chapter is now being printed in a very angry font.
Does Barnes & Noble's Nook stand a chance, even with these initial hiccups? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.