What Barnes & Noble Had Better Announce for the Nook Next Week

Barnes & Noble (BKS) has invited the press to a "special announcement" next week. As the perceived runner-up in the e-reader race, the battered company better have some serious tricks up its sleeve for the Nook, its e-reader. Right now the Apple (APPL) iBookstore has the hype and the visuals while the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle has the biggest e-reader userbase and catalog, plus an aggressive app creation program. Here are ways the Barnes & Noble Nook can get back in the game.

Keep the price reasonable: The e-reader price war is in full effect, so the days of customers purchasing a $300 reading device are done. The challenge for the nook is that it is still the most expensive against the kindle and has less features:
  • $149 nook Wi-Fi vs. $139 Kindle Wi-Fi
  • $199 nook Wi-Fi + 3G vs. $189 Kindle Wi-Fi + 3G
Setting the next generation of Nook at $199 is probably as far as Barnes & Noble can go, keeping it within striking distance of the latest Kindle and the low-end, albeit subpar e-readers out now.

There are only two ways Barnes & Noble could reasonably increase the price and still make a positive impact on the market: Add in unique features to the nook or wager that the next Kindle will be considerably more expensive than its new Nook. The latter will eventually be true, especially as pressure from the Apple (APPL) iBookstore seems to be pushing Amazon towards a color update, but that won't occur until next year at the earliest -- and Barnes & Noble would be stuck with the most expensive e-reader contender on the market (Sony's (SNE) Reader doesn't hold much weight).

Support animation: Both Kindle and iBookstore are asleep behind the wheel when it comes to audio/visual components. Amazon has had much success exploring video games such as Scrabble, but, strangely, it hasn't applied any animation to books themselves. Similarly, Apple has been too slow to promote or support the iBookstore multimedia aspects beyond the page-turn animation, leaving more creative book publishers to create stand-alone iPad apps as opposed to including their materials in the official iBookstore.

The Barnes & Noble Nook has a wide-open lane here. The next device doesn't have to offer the rich full-color offered on Apple's iDevices, nor the cadre of apps coming to the Kindle in the upcoming months. Instead, the nook just has to enable smooth, even limited animation, and entice innovative book publishers to take advantage of it. The nook's e-ink format has the capabilities, as Gizmodo noted a few months ago.

Add in wise social networking: Barnes & Noble knows there is a synergy between virtual interactions and real-life purchases, but it doesn't quite know how to implement it yet. For instance, this past summer it offered free coffee to customers who came into the store with their nook. It is a nice gesture, but it seems the whole point of the nook is to not have to enter a physical store -- the whole beach reading idea. BNet Style Inc. contributor Lydia Dishman is equally critical of the nook being sold at bulk stores like Walmart.

A much wiser plan would be implementing a simple social networking interface a la GoodReads. Consumers can easily share what they are currently reading, find out what "friends" are reading, and access the thousands, if not millions of reviews already available on the Barnes & Noble website. Even a basic, stripped down equivalent of Apple's Ping would be a welcome addition to the ebook universe and a natural progression of nook's book sharing capabilities.

It would also exploit the biggest weakness of both the iPad and the Kindle: The jack of all trades mentality. The iPad can do a million and one things, but the iBookstore still isn't cataloged properly. The Kindle has the biggest buzz, but its ambitious app program is interfering with the books themselves. The nook can be that clear-cut alternative that keeps things focused around one goal: reading.

Photo courtesy of AMagill // CC 2.0