Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nook: Too Soon To Call It a Kindle-Killer

If nothing else, developments in the e-reader market provide substantial fodder for online commentary. It seems that every week features a story in a mainstream publication about the latest “Kindle killer” followed by endless chatter and eager speculation in blogs and on Twitter.

This week’s discussion centered on Barnes & Noble’s “Nook” device. It’s not hard to see why this particular device sparked such discussion. The slick-looking device has unique features, such as the ability to “lend” books that friends can view on multiple platforms for 14 days, use of Google’s Android operating system, and a small color touch-screen.

I very much like Barnes & Noble thinking outside its business model box. The company has been aggressively seeking to find new paths to revenue and growth, an appropriate approach given the challenges facing its core business.

So will the device be a huge success? Will Amazon’s early e-reader success with its Kindle offering end up looking analogous to early success by Rio and Creative in the MP3 market before the emergence of Apple’s iPod?

The answer to both questions could be yes. But in reality, those questions are simply impossible to answer for three reasons:

  1. No one knows what consumers will do until they actually do it. Barnes & Noble’s device will appeal to some consumers for sure, but will it lead early adopters to ditch their Kindle? Does it have enough features to attract the next class of potential customers? As a Silicon Alley Insider commentator wrote, “Amazon is obviously designing to real user needs and covering the gameboard. B&N is fiddling around with goofy stuff that might just be crazy enough to work.”
  2. No single device will “end” e-reader battles, whether it’s from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Plastic Logic, or another competitor. Amazon is quite likely to have further devices in its production line. Does Barnes & Noble have anything else up its sleeves?
  3. No one is quite sure what Apple will do in the space. There’s significant speculation that Apple will introduce a $500-$700 tablet early next year. The company’s history in the computing, music device, and smartphone market suggest watching this development carefully.

Read the rest at Scott’s Havard Management blog, Innovation Insights.

Scott D. Anthony is managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific.

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