I have to give Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) some credit. Its Nook e-book reader, which will hit the market at the end of next month, is a lot cooler than I thought it would be.
Pass the salt shaker so I can eat some of my own words.
"The problem, of course, is that there's no way that B&N will be able to match Amazon on price," I wrote last week.
"If it's successful, B&N will wean readers off its bricks-and-mortar stores," I also wrote.
Wrong! In a neat wrinkle, the Nook may actually encourage more visits to the company's superstores. Here's a feature mentioned on the nook.com website:
Visit the store, turn on your Nook, and see what pops up on your screen. It's as simple as that. You will get exclusive content, special discounts, and more. And soon, you will be able to read entire eBooks for free at your local Barnes & Noble.
Let the potential sink in. Instead of a digital reader that encourages you to kiss off bookstores forever, the Nook will encourage owners to make regular visits. Think about the possibilities.
- Walk into a B&N store, and the screen can display a scannable coupon for 30% off a cup of coffee or a deal for a free pastry with a latte purchase.
- Every day can bring new deals -- on digital or physical books. That will encourage repeat visits.
- Even if the incentives are digital -- such as the free e-book that can be read in-store -- it still creates the opportunity to move impulse items and shop for gifts for the non-Nooked.
Just as Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI ) tried to use its stores as an advantage over Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) when it introduced in-store DVD exchanges to its Total Access mail plan, B&N is going where Amazon or Sony (NYSE: SNE ) can't -- unless they decide to partner with retailer Borders (NYSE: BGP ) or a smaller retailer.
Nook is also taking a page out of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Zune playbook by offering social sharing. However, instead of sharing self-destructing tunes for a few days, someone can "lend" a digital book to a friend for 14 days. This may not be in the best interests of B&N and book publishers, but it's a realistic solution to real-world books that also get passed around.
The Nook may still fail. The Nov. 30 release date may be too late to gain momentum during this critical holiday season. These things may prove to be buggy or shoddy. There may be supply-chain problems.
However, you have to like B&N's chances. It is most definitely not phoning it in with a half-hearted effort.
Do you own an e-book reader, or will you be springing for one over the holidays? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.