Barnes & Noble's (NYSE: BKS ) release of its Nook e-book reader is starting to parallel the 2007 launch of Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Kindle.
B&N has already filled its initial quota for orders that it can ship by its Nov. 30 debut. A second wave slated to be sent out on Dec. 7 has also been maxed out. According to this morning's Wall Street Journal, new customers are now being given a Dec. 11 shipping date.
As we learned from Amazon during the 2007 holiday season, selling out isn't necessarily an indicator of consumer demand. The leading online retailer had supply-related issues. The Kindle appears to be a success these days, but Amazon has yet to provide hard numbers. All we know is that the Kindle has gone through three price cuts in less than two years.
So what's going on at B&N right now? The Nook is certainly cool -- with a few bar-raising features that include e-book sharing, a secondary touchscreen, and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android as its engine -- but it's certainly not the kind of gadget that would command two waves of sellouts sight unseen. If the Nook is a winner, it will be when it's out in the wild, as B&N shoppers see other book lovers toting around their readers and cashing in on in-store digital promotions.
So if demand is iffy, we're down to one of two theories:
- B&N is having supply issues.
- B&N is controlling supply to give the illusion that this is the next Tickle Me Elmo.
The first possibility makes sense, since the original release date also sadly comes just after the critical Black Friday kickoff to the holiday shopping season. It is indicative of a race against time that the leading bookstore chain is losing.
The deliberate-tightening theory is intriguing, but managed dissatisfaction will only get B&N so far. If it wants to take on Amazon.com, Sony (NYSE: SNE ) , and the smaller players already on the market, it can't let the 2009 holiday season go by without making sure it pumps out as many of these suckers as possible. Anyone seriously considering a Nook for a holiday gift but frightened by the creeping release dates will just go with a Kindle or a Sony gadget instead. B&N also has to realize that the shelf life of its Nook may also be an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iTablet announcement away from extinction.
The clock is ticking on the Nook, and time truly is money this time.
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