Barnes & Noble
Reading-Related Brands: NOOK (e-readers, tablets, and mobile apps, including NOOK Audiobooks), Newsstand, and B&N Readouts
E-Reader Available: NOOK GlowLight Plus
Tablets Available: Samsung Galaxy Tab A NOOK, Samsung Galaxy Tab E NOOK, Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 NOOK, and Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
In the News: On Feb. 3, Barnes & Noble introduced a NOOK trade-in program that ran from Feb. 3 to March 5. Existing NOOK customers could visit a Barnes & Noble store to trade in their NOOK device (the NOOK 1st Edition, NOOK Color, NOOK Tablet, NOOK Simple Touch, NOOK Simple Touch with GlowLight, NOOK HD, NOOK HD+, or NOOK GlowLight) for a $50 credit toward a new “NOOK by Samsung” tablet, including the 9.6-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab E NOOK for $179.99 or the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK for $89.99.
On April 7, Barnes & Noble partnered with the Bahwan CyberTek (BCT) software company to outsource NOOK technology services such as cloud management and development support to BCT. This allowed Barnes & Noble to close its Santa Clara (Calif.) and Taiwan offices in July. The press release states that Barnes & Noble maintains “its commitment to the NOOK business and said it will continue to provide an exceptional NOOK reading experience without customer interruption,” perhaps to head off any additional rumors of the company’s demise, which have plagued it for years. The new partnership was expected to save the company about $13 million in cash each year.
On Aug. 17, Barnes & Noble launched the Samsung Galaxy Tab A NOOK (see image), the latest model in its line of NOOK by Samsung devices. It cost $139.99 at launch and has a 7-inch screen, a front-facing camera, an integrated FM tuner for radio, a microSD card slot for up to 200GB of extra storage (beyond the 8GB it comes with), up to 11 hours of internet usage on one battery charge, and access to the Google Play store (NOOK’s devices run Android; Amazon has its own OS). Readers also get access to the B&N Readouts book discovery system and NOOK Audiobooks. Existing NOOK customers were able to upgrade to this model for $99.99 (plus a free cover) for a limited time by trading in their previous device or showing its proof of purchase.
On Nov. 16, Barnes & Noble announced that its newest tablet, the NOOK Tablet 7”, which cost $49.99 at launch, would be available on Black Friday. It has many of the same features as the Samsung Galaxy Tab A NOOK, but its description also boasts a rear-facing camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and a soft-touch back. Unfortunately, the tablet is no longer available on its product page, and Hoffelder reported on Jan. 13 that Barnes & Noble had to recall it due to a faulty charging adaptor.
Rakuten Kobo, Inc.
Reading-Related Brand: Kobo (e-readers, tablets, and mobile apps)
E-Readers Available: Kobo Aura ONE, Kobo Aura, Kobo Aura H2O, and Kobo Touch 2.0
Tablets Available: None (the Kobo Arc is no longer available on Kobo’s website)
In the News: On May 23, Kobo bailed out U.K. retailer Waterstones when it stopped selling ebooks on its website. Current Waterstones customers had the option to transfer their digital libraries to the Kobo platform, which then gave them access to Kobo’s ebookstore of more than 5 million titles. Waterstones sent its customers a series of emails instructing them on how to transfer their libraries (or merge their accounts, if they already had a Kobo account).
On Aug. 17, Kobo introduced the Kobo Aura ONE (see image), the first e-reader in the industry with a blue-light-reducing front-lit display for better nighttime reading. Its ambient light sensor automatically measures surrounding light levels to determine the best brightness level to use. The screen also fits more words on each page (thanks to the 7.8-inch screen and print-quality resolution), and the interface provides customized book recommendations. The device’s interior coating makes it waterproof—it can be fully submerged for up to an hour without damage. It comes in soft black, has 8GB of storage, stays charged for up to 1 month, and cost 249.99 Canadian dollars (about $189) at launch. Additionally, Kobo used this same press release to announce an update to the Kobo Aura. The second edition of this device has a 6-inch screen, 4GB of memory, and a battery life of up to 2 months. It is black and cost 129.99 Canadian dollars (about $98) at launch.
In a self-congratulatory pat on the back disguised as a public service announcement, Kobo observed on Sept. 16 that the Aura ONE was “selling at a blistering pace in Canada” and “sporadic out-of-stocks will be seen” through the rest of the month. Customers could visit Kobo’s website or indigo.ca to see the device’s availability. Best Buy would begin selling the device in Canada on Sept. 30. “The Kobo Aura ONE has clearly tapped into a pent-up demand for advanced features no other device on the market offers,” said Michael Tamblyn, Kobo’s CEO. “When we created Kobo Aura ONE, we knew that a subset of our most passionate readers would be interested in a premium device with improved waterproofing, a bigger screen, and a blue-light reducing technology. However, it’s safe to say that the enthusiasm we are seeing for Aura ONE has happily surpassed expectations.”
On Sept. 20, Kobo rescued another company, Sainsbury’s, by partnering with its Sainsbury’s Entertainment division to transfer customers’ ebook libraries to the Kobo platform when the company exited the digital entertainment business. Sainsbury’s customers were promised a seamless transfer of their current digital libraries as well as an email by Oct. 25 with the instructions on how to access their previously purchased ebooks (as well as instructions for existing customers of both Sainsbury’s and Kobo on how to merge their accounts). Sainsbury’s accounts were automatically closed on Dec. 1.
On Sept. 29, Kobo launched its ebookstore in Taiwan and instituted a partnership with leading Taiwanese publishers so it can offer original and translated Chinese-language titles on its platform. Kobo also created a Chinese-language e-reader app for iOS and Android devices, full of millions of international titles, for Taiwanese readers, so they don’t have to purchase a dedicated Kobo e-reader to use its ebookstore. Kobo had previously announced the expansion of its ebookstore into Turkey and Mexico.