November 9, 2010

Marketing the Color Nook

Filed under: Uncategorized — heratech @ 11:40 pm
Tags: ,

Library Hello, my name is Julie, and I’m a Biblioholic.

The first thing people usually say when they visit my home is “Wow, you have a lot of books.” Since I’m starting to run out of spaces to put new bookshelves, I’ve been seriously considering buying an e-reader. But after reading this article about the new color Nook from Barnes and Nobles, I have to wonder if the people designing these contraptions have any idea who their core market is?

When I worked at Barnes and Nobles, the company defined a “reader” as someone who read at least one book a year. In 2007 the Associated Press conducted a poll, and found out that 25% of Americans read no books in the previous year. The typical American reads 4 books a year. If you exclude non-readers, the average number of books read in a year is 7. If the average reader buys all 7 of their books in hardcover, the $175 they spend on books hardly justifies spending another $150-300 to buy an e-reader.

People who only read one or two books a year aren’t going to buy an e-reader. The sort of people who want to buy an e-reader are the people who don’t leave the house without reading material on them. People who don’t have enough room in their house (or luggage) for the volume of books that they read. People who have trouble storing their libraries because they’ve run out of bookshelves. Or spaces to install new bookshelves.

The average American isn’t their market. I am. The couple of years when I bothered to keep track of the number of books I read, I plowed through 60 – 75 books a year. And back when I sold books at Barnes and Nobles, we had customers who came in to the store weekly and filled a basket with books. Then came back the next week and bought another basket, because they’d already read the books they bought the week before. These are the people who I would think would be the core market for e-readers.

And yet look at the mixed messages that this article is sending about their target market. The battery allows up to eight hours of continuous reading, and the gadget’s 8 GB of internal memory can hold around 6,000 books. Eight hours of continuous reading? I’ve been known to devour a good book in one sitting. And haven’t their developers ever been on an international flight? It’s not unusual to be away from an outlet for more than eight hours when you’re traveling. How frustrating to have 6,000 books in your pocket, and not enough battery life to read them.

But the part of the article that worries me the most is the part where is says that Barnes & Nobles’ announcement indicates it views the e-reader fight as one that will be won on technology — not content.

Really? I thought the whole point of an e-reader was to be able to read content. But what do I know, I’m just a reader. And at the moment, the criteria I’m looking for in an e-reader isn’t technology, but the following:

• Screen size – equivalent to a trade paperback book
• Price point – low enough to justify the purchase (at or close to $100)
• Battery life – measured in days, not hours

All three items on my wish list are currently available, just not on the same device. Instead, the current crop of e-readers include several features that I really don’t care about:
• Color display (I’ve seriously cut back my magazine and comic reading, and there aren’t many picture books targeted towards adults)
• Social features (ability to Twitter or post to Facebook)
• Ability to loan books (I only have 2 or 3 friends who own e-readers)

Another thing that I’m struggling with is the current pricing scheme for books for e-readers; prices for hard copy and e-reader versions are the same, around $10 per copy. But when you buy an e-book, you don’t really own anything. Yes, you paid for the story, but after you’ve read it, you don’t have anything left but data on a device that will probably be obsolete within a year or two. A hard copy book can last for decades, which means, if you really like the book you can loan it to friends. (My copy of The World According to Garp got passed around at least a half a dozen of my friends, and has since been autographed). Or donate it to your local library book sale, service member or charity.

I haven’t quite made up my mind yet as to whether or not I’m going to buy an e-reader. I supposed it depends on whether I think I’ll do enough reading of “disposable” books in the next year or two. But it’s still an interesting thing to ponder, when you can’t sell an e-reader to a biblioholic, what are you doing wrong?

Related links –

I’ve read quite a few blogs by professional writers (i.e novelists) on the topic of e-readers and ebooks. My favorites are probably the following posts by author Jay Lake.

The value of ebooks; or contents vs container.

More on ebooks, pricing and licensing.

Yet another dip into ebooks and licensing.

And a Color eInk reader has been announced by a Chinese e-reader maker.


  1. I have to agree. I would not buy just an e-reader device since, with regard to reading, I’m a bit of a Luddite. But I am also concerned about the inability to save what I have bought in a format that does not become obsolete. So, regardless of price, I will not get into the e-reader marketplace. (I can get Kindle for my Mac and PC easily enough, for example, but just don’t find that of interest either.)

    But I will, at some point, get a tablet device once I see how the market “shakes out,” so to speak, after others, besides Apple, produce something substantive.

    Comment by Scott Duncan — November 10, 2010 @ 6:01 am | Reply

  2. I’m a big reader. I get most of my books from the library. The e-book industry doesn’t even have libraries on their radar. So, it’s physical books for me for the foreseeable future.

    Comment by Bill Callahan — November 10, 2010 @ 1:33 pm | Reply

  3. I’ll probably get a Kindle for Christmas or for my birthday (right after Christmas). I wouldn’t spend the money on myself, but if my wife or stepdaughter wants to buy me one, I’ll gladly accept it, on account of one “killer app”.
    The one thing that has me most interested in owning an eBook reader is the free availability of most classics. I do very much want to read a lot of the books I learned about in a history of world lit course, but I don’t want to buy and store the hundred or so that I have on my list. The Kindle essentially gives me a spare closet full of classic books.
    A second point of interest is the ability to view PDFs. I write a lot of docs and I am in a writers group that generates a lot more, and I have to review it all. I can load them onto the kindle and take them with me to review in the car while my wife is in an antiques shop on a Saturday afternoon. I’ll save my own paper and toner.
    Finally, it would help on a long trip. My wife and I like to take long train trips. We’ve crossed the country by rail 6 or 7 times. Each time I have brought a suitcase full of books and a briefcase full of review docs. The Kindle will save my back!

    Comment by john — November 17, 2010 @ 12:13 pm | Reply

  4. I’ve been considering an e-reader myself. However, I refuse to read actual books on an e-reader. There’s something about tactile sensation, about owning a book, about parading my favourite books on my shelf, the many writers I’ve met who’ve signed those books, etc.

    The reason I want an e-reader is for literary journals. A subscription to Ploughshares is $30 a year in print and $2/month on Kindle. Right now, I’m subscribed to six journals and can sometimes be subscribed to as many as twelve at a time. That’s not only a lot of money saved on an e-reader, but I also save physical space on my shelves without stacks and stacks of years of literary journals. For that alone, it could be worth the price point, although I agree with you that it’s a lot of money for something as stupid and as silly as a full-colour screen. The features you don’t care about, i don’t either. And the features you do, I do too.


    Comment by amatterofself — November 29, 2012 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

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