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Barnes & Noble is reinventing itself, however not its e-readers

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My first e-reader wasn’t a Kindle, it was a Nook. It had a 6-inch 167 ppi E-Ink show and a tiny, horrible, however thrilling LED show beneath. There was a headphone jack, wi-fi, and a music participant constructed proper in. Popping out a yr earlier than the iPad, it felt electrical. It felt like Star Trek. It felt like the proper bridge machine between my smartphone and my laptop. However quickly Amazon turned its appreciable may, and talent to subsidize its book enterprise with all its different extra profitable companies, towards Barnes & Noble, and because it raced Amazon to the most cost effective e-reader Barnes & Noble misplaced no matter id its e-reader division was creating.

Now, years after Amazon received and Barnes & Noble misplaced, the corporate is privately held and it has a brand new CEO, James Daunt. Daunt was introduced on in 2019 to assist save the corporate that had been devastated by excessive rents on its shops, a precipitous decline in gross sales, and the aforementioned retail large. Daunt’s imaginative and prescient for the indie bookstore killer approaches the ironic. The as soon as large of publishing is handing management of its shops to its managers, trying to instill in every of its shops the impartial spirit it used to quash. Wall Street Journal has a profile of the company out this week that’s an interesting take a look at how Barnes & Noble is studying to compete with Amazon with out cannibalizing itself within the course of.

The Nook enterprise doesn’t come up within the profile, and thats in all probability for the most effective. Whenever you’re making an attempt to rebrand your organization as indie and funky you may’t present up with the Nook. Whereas most e-readers are slim, with small bezels and smooth exteriors, the E-Ink a part of the Nook line up seems prefer it stumbled out of 2012. it I really feel the urge to ask the Glowlight 4 who the president is.

The Nook Glowlight 4 seems acquainted…
Picture by Barnes & Noble

And I don’t suppose it’s speculated to be this manner. When Daunt launched the $149 Nook Glowlight 4 in 2021 he mentioned that the corporate was trying to “reinvigorate Nook within the coming months and years.” Since than the corporate launched 4 ebook-reading units. There’s the 10-inch Android tablet made by Lenovo, that…seems like each different $130 pill. However at the very least it’s bought the Google Play Retailer on the house display screen so you may select which e-reader app you employ.

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Then there are the E-Ink readers. The flagship is the Nook Glowlight 4 which is a bit more costly than the Kindle and a bit cheaper than the Kobo, and few options lighter than each. But it surely does have web page turning buttons! The $99 Nook Glowlight 4e has page-turning buttons too, however sacrifices much more than the Glowlight 4 to maintain its worth low. Particularly the standard type of sucks. We had plenty of points with responsiveness which might be probably the most irritating sin an e-reader can commit. If I press a button to show the web page…I would like the web page to show.

In September Barnes & Noble goes to attempt to flip issues round with the $199 GlowLight 4 Plus. It’s waterproof. It’s bought a headphone jack and Bluetooth. There’s 32GB of onboard storage and a front-lit E-Ink show with 300ppi decision and shade temperature management. It’s not that first technology Nook from approach again in 2009, but it surely feels extra thrilling than what Amazon is providing on the identical worth.

The issue is, like the opposite Nook e-readers its type of dorky, and when you’re already within the Kindle ecosystem—which lots of people are—there’s not an excellent compelling cause to change over past a need to chop the Amazon wire or since you love buttons.

You possibly can’t see it, however this factor has a headphone jack.
Picture by Barnes & Noble

The Nook lineup contains a few different options that ought to theoretically be compelling, however at all times come up simply brief. For instance, you may entry library books on the Nook, however preserving with the early 2010 theme of this lineup, you have to a USB cable and Adobe software program. In the meantime Overdrive can ship books to your Kindle immediately, and whereas it may be tough to arrange, Kobo has Overdrive inbuilt.

It’s unclear how Daunt’s present “reinvigoration” of the Nook model goes for the corporate financially, however from the skin I don’t see how it may be doing something however breaking even. Anti-Amazon clients and Nook diehards who by no means switched can’t be that a lot of a market, and it additionally has to compete with Kobo to woo folks against Amazon—which analysts estimate owns between 68 and 83-percent of the book marketshare within the U.S.

With that type of dominance Barnes & Noble both must struggle over the scraps with Kobo (which is owned by Rakuten—the huge Japanese on-line retailer) or differentiate itself. Lackluster design and bodily buttons aren’t gone be sufficient.

I’d like to see Amazon launch an Android E-Ink pill. These tablets are getting extra standard in non-American markets the place one two to firms don’t have a digital monopoly on the e-reader house. You should purchase one on Amazon or direct from the producer fairly simply. I’m personally enamored with Onyx Boox and its line up of Android E-Ink tablets.

The Leaf 2 begins at $199, has web page turning buttons, the Google Play Retailer, and a consumer expertise that wants enchancment.
Photograph by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The issue is the software program expertise isn’t at all times excellent, and most Android functions aren’t constructed for E-Ink shows with their glacially gradual refresh charges. This results in quite a lot of friction that doesn’t exist while you use a standard pill or telephone.

However Barnes & Noble has a beautiful app expertise. It might theoretically dispose of quite a lot of that friction. Think about an e-reader that supported the Barnes & Noble retailer out of the field however allowed you to additionally entry your Kindle library, or simply take a look at a e-book from Libby, or scroll by your bookmarked articles in Pocket too.

Amazon won’t ever construct a Kindle with that flexibility—it ones you to remain proper within the Amazon ecosystem. Kobo is comparable. There’s a cause downloading a library books isn’t as seamless as shopping for a reserving from the Kobo retailer. However Barnes & Noble is the bookseller that wishes to indicate off its impartial spirit. It needs its brick and mortar shops to specific their individualism. So why not its e-readers too?

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