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Why Barnes & Noble's Nook Has Consumers Hooked


For the bookseller, keeping up with demand for the e-reader is a fairytale.

Fans of the Barnes & Noble (BKS) Nook are demonstrating daily that you can, in fact, judge a book -- or, at least, an e-reader -- by its cover. And although such attraction to the wireless device has exceeded the company's wildest dreams, it's made keeping up with customer requests a fairytale.

"Demand for the product in our stores and online has surpassed our expectations," said Mary Ellen Keating, a spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble, in November. In fact, there was so much interest in the Nook at its introduction back in October that consumers who pre-ordered the $259 device were looking at a wait to receive it. "We are working hard to meet demand for the holidays," Keating added.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. The bookseller's plan was to have the Nook in its highest-volume brick-and-mortar stores the week of December 8, but "overwhelming demand" from customers buying online made the plan unfeasible, a spokeswoman for the company said on December 7. "We wanted to make sure we filled preorders first," B&N spokeswoman Carolyn Brown told InformationWeek, but added that there would be demonstration models available in stores so customers could at least try it out.

Barnes & Noble launched the Nook to compete with Amazon's (AMZN) famed Kindle, e-readers from Sony (SNE), and other devices. In October, Forrester Research Inc. issued a report projecting total e-reader sales in the US to reach 3 million in 2009, with 30% of sales occurring in November and December. But which company will end up garnering the majority of those sales?

It's hard to say when in reality, the Nook isn't entirely dissimilar from the Kindle. Many argue, in fact, that the former is not only a copycat, but a lousy one at that. They cite an achingly slow wait time for it to power up, a more cumbersome, one-ounce weight difference, and a wi-fi connection and color screen that drain battery life too quickly.

But admirers seem to be drawn to the Nook for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is one tempting piece of eye candy: Where the Kindle has a tiny chiclet keyboard and joystick, the Nook has a color multi-touch screen -- similar to Apple's (AAPL) interface -- that's used as a keyboard or to browse books in cover-flow style.
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