BN Shoppers Disappointed by Nook Delay

A steady stream of Barnes & Noble bookstore customers checked out mock-ups of the Nook e-reader at a Boston area retail store today, and several expressed disappointment that the device isn't on sale in stores as earlier promised.

Signs inside the Framingham, Mass., store said the device will be on sale the week of Dec. 7, although store officials could not disclose how many devices would be available. Earlier, signs had said the in-store sales would begin today.

Various news reports have quoted Barnes & Noble officials as saying the in-store stock available the week of Dec. 7 would be very limited and the devices would be available only in the highest-volume stores.

Barnes & Noble spokeswoman Carolyn Brown said something slightly different in an e-mail to Computerworld today, noting that "demo devices are scheduled to be available in our highest volume stores the week of Dec. 7," with those same stores "also expected to receive very limited inventory [for sale] at a date yet to be determined." She did not indicate which stores will be included.

Barnes & Noble has 725 retail stores, as well as another 636 college bookstores and 50 B. Dalton stores.

Also today, Barnesandnoble.com announced it is further delaying shipments of online purchases of the Nook to on or around Jan. 11 , a week later than the Jan. 4 date posted for the past week or so.

In a blog post , Barnes & Noble said customers who order the Nook beginning today, "should expect their devices to ship on or around Jan. 11, 2010."

Brown said pre-orders are starting to ship this week, adding that Barnes & Noble is "committed to doing everything we can to ensure everyone who ordered a Nook before November 20th will receive it in time for the holidays. Due to the high demand, we are prioritizing our pre-orders."

On Nov. 20, Barnesandnoble.com reported Nooks for pre-order were out of stock with deliveries starting after Jan. 4. Sony also reported delivery problems with its Daily Edition e-reader on Nov. 18. With both devices shipping later, Amazon.com today noted its Kindles are in stock with immediate delivery, and that November had already been a record sales month for the device.

One elderly man and a middle school student visiting the Framingham store both said they wanted to check out the Nook before buying one, since the advantage of buying a Nook over a Kindle device from Amazon.com is being able to see it operate before buying it. Both said that having the ability to browse the Web more fully might give the Kindle an advantage over the Nook, although they said they would prefer not to buy a Kindle without seeing one first.

Still, they and several other customers were enthusiastic about the Nook, even just holding the non-functioning plastic case mock-up, which was quite a bit lighter than the actual device.

A store clerk who gave his name only as George was offering customers a paperback book of about the same weight as the Nook for comparisons. He also cited a variety of comparisona with the latest generation Kindle, which also sells for $259.

"People are very, very excited about the Nook," George said, noting that the ability to lend a book for two weeks and the device's use of the Android operating system from Google had been mentioned by customers.

Margaret Moore, community relations manager at the Framingham store, said Barnes & Noble employees and the community of traditional booksellers of paperbacks and hardbacks are warming to the e-reader trend. "It's a great thing," she said of the e-reader. "It's seen as another way to read."

Barnes & Noble hasn't characterized the delays for in-store Nooks and online shipments as either a good or a bad thing for the retailer, but last week noted in a statement for second quarter financial results that the "overwhelming customer demand" for the Nook is causing the company to ramp up production of the device, which has resulted in "higher production costs than originally anticipated and increasing future investments related to its digital strategy, including additional people, technology and in-store marketing support."

Because of those factors and since retail traffic will "remain challenged" during holiday sales, the company lowered its full year earnings forecast to between 33 cents and 63 cents a share, down from a prior forecast of 59 cents to 89 cents a share.

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