Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Barnes & Noble’s Nook Finally Limps Into Stores. Too Late?

Remember the Nook? Last fall, when the e-reader race was largely defined by Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s device seemed as if it might make a bit of noise: It had an interesting-looking two-screen approach, and–crucially–the bookseller could sell the gadget at its own stores, giving it a brick-and-mortar advantage Amazon couldn’t counter.

That was way back in October, though, and since then, production delays have slowed the Nook’s entry into the market. The devices were hard to buy online for the 2009 holiday season. And they haven’t been available at all in stores–you could talk to a store rep about one, and if you were lucky, you got to fondle one, but that was it.

Now Barnes & Noble (BKS) says that starting Wednesday, the $259 device will be available in the “majority” of its 775 U.S. stores.

Better late than never. But not a lot better.

Barnes & Noble’s problem, of course, is that in the last couple weeks, the e-reader market has been completely redefined, at least among the chattering classes: It’s now Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle vs. Apple’s (AAPL) iPad.

It’s still theoretically possible for Barnes & Noble–and Sony (SNE), for that matter, as well as Plastic Logic and the other would-be competitors–to elbow their way in, since the e-book market itself is still pretty young.

But they had better move very, very fast. Even if they offer devices that are as good or better than Apple’s or Amazon’s, they’ll be hard-pressed to combat the other huge advantages those two have over the rest of the pack–established e-commerce relationships with a huge customer base.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik