The Ebook Reader War continues. Amazon just scored a major victory and a lot of attention with the double barreled attack of new models AND another price cut on their Kindle ebook readers. Considering that Barnes & Noble had just introduced a new WiFi only Nook as well as dropping the prices on the 3G model a few weeks ago, to lower prices again so soon would look more than a little desperate.
However, B&N NEEDS to respond somehow. Some pundits are saying that the new cheaper Kindles means that the Ebook Reader War is over, Amazon wins the right to ultimately get crushed by Apple. They just can’t let that perception stand. Rather than initiate another round of price cuts, it seems that Barnes and Noble are going to improve their utilization of two valuable assets that Amazon has no immediate answer for…the Nook brand name, and all those brick and mortar stores they control.
First of all, Barnes & Noble are continuing to take steps to consolidate their Nook brand which has been very well accepted. Since the new Android software the release a few weeks ago was branded as Nook, they are updating and renaming all existing B&N Reader software available on other platforms as Nook readers. That is a very important step and to be honest I am surprised it took them this long to do.
Secondly and far more importantly, Barnes and Noble has always had a massive advantage in the fact that they had stores all over the US where people can go to test out and buy Nooks. Amazon has not really had that until recent deals with Target stores, but even then it is not the same thing.
Barnes & Noble are not looking to capitalize properly on that advantage by setting more store space aside for “Nook Boutiques” where people can buy Nooks and the wide range of accessories available for them. It will also help to make clear the advantage B&N has over Amazon in terms of special downloadable content in their stores. This not only brings Nook users into the physical stores but also encourages them to show off their Nooks in the store, where they are readily available.
From the beginning B&N had a much clearer view of the Nook as a lifestyle device with its own brand and economy, like an iPod. Where the Kindle released with one or two generic cases, and still doesn’t have much more than that from Amazon, the Nook was released with a wide range of cases and sleeves custom made for the device, some from big name designers. The Boutique idea will just increase the exposure of the products that are already available.
B&N’s Press Release describes the whole Boutique concept as follows…
"We entered the eBook market a year ago confident our bookstores would be a huge competitive asset, and a year later, the role of our retail channel in the success of NOOK and eBooks, and the popularity of our in-store eReading features have crystallized this advantage," said William J. Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble. "No other company is doing what Barnes & Noble is doing, utilizing its store footprint and innovative technology to add value to the customer’s eReading experience — including unique features such as digital eBook lending, free Wi-Fi connectivity, in-store browsing of complete eBooks and exclusive content, and more."
Lynch added, "The NOOK Boutique concept was designed to ensure we’re maximizing the growth potential for all channels through our bookstores, which will continue to focus on delivering customers the joy, discovery and exploration of reading in a comfortable, community setting. Our growing leadership in technology and digital content is simply deepening the experience."
The 1,000 square-foot boutiques will feature demonstration tables and multiple operating NOOK devices for trial. An adjoining wall and large flat panel display will feature video demos of NOOK eBook Readers and display more than 100 accessories, including NOOK covers by popular designers such as kate spade new york, Jack Spade, Jonathan Adler and Lilly Pulitzer. Each NOOK Boutique will be fully staffed by knowledgeable booksellers who will offer book lovers device demonstrations, help customers download Barnes & Noble’s free NOOK software to their mobile or computing devices, and provide ongoing support.
This is definitely a great move by B&N and they should steal a page from Apple’s winning strategy book and try to roll Boutiques out in as many cities and stores as possible. They should also take another cue from Apple and make sure the “knowledgeable booksellers” they have staffing the boutique are also excited about the Nook and are themselves passionate ebook readers. Just knowing what products are available and being able to work the register will not do it in the current climate, they will need to be Nook evangelists.
The Ebook Reader war over? Not by a long shot.