Barnes & Noble Nook demo units arrive, but sales of e-reader delayed

Nook e-reader now slated to be available in Barnes & Noble stores after the holidays

Barnes & Noble today put its Nook e-readers on display at its retail stores, but acknowledged that it won't be selling any of the US$259 device at the stores until after the holidays. The latest plan contradicts earlier in-store signs announcing that the product would go on sale this week.

"We have ... decided that based on the high volume of pre-orders, we will not have for-sale inventory in our stores until after the holidays," Barnesand Noble.com reported in a blog note posted on its Web site late last week by someone identified only as Kevin. "We will provide details as the dates become more clear."

A week ago, a company spokeswoman had said via emai that demo units would not be displayed at every store and that some "very limited inventory" would be for sale at a "date to be determined." But signs inside a Framingham, Mass., store last week indicated some Nook e-readers would be available this week.

The company blog also said that pre-orders received online or in stores today would ship about Jan. 15.

Less than a month ago, on Nov. 20, BarnesandNoble.com had reported that pre-ordered Nooks were out of stock, and that deliveries would start Jan. 4. Meanwhile, rival Amazon.com announced last week that it had Kindle e-readers in stock, while Sony said it would have trouble fulfilling orders of the Daily Edition e-reader for the holidays.

The Barnes & Noble decision to put demo units in all of its 1,400 stores, and not to sell any from the stores until after the holidays has not caused much customer concern, at least in Framingham, said Margaret Moore, a community relations manager for the Framingham store. "People are understanding" about rollouts of new technologies, she said. She said the store personnel have taken "lots" of pre-orders.

The first customer deliveries of the Nook are supposed to arrive the middle of this week, Kevin said in the Barnes & Noble blog post. "We are excited about this and we can't wait to hear your feedback..."

However, some online comments at Computerworld.com and elsewhere said that Barnes & Noble is "missing the boat" by delaying sales of the e-reader, while others wondered whether the delay is indicative of the quality of the product.

Several potential customers at the Framingham store today played with two working Nooks on display with the help of a store employee. One woman, who gave her name only as Pam, said she thought it functioned well, but was concerned about whether the size of the screen and the font sizes are adequate for long periods of reading text. She said she doesn't have an e-reader or smartphone to read e-books, but has friends who like them.

"The biggest drawback is that it's still a tiny page" to read from for a long time even if you adjust the font size, she said in an interview outside the store after using the Nook for 20 minutes.

She said the $259 price tag is "way off" -- half that would be reasonable. Nonetheless, she said she is still interested in possibly buying one because she lives in a small apartment with many books. An e-reader would help her avoid having to add more physical books to the space.

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Matt Hamblen

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