B&N sorely needs to make a mark

The Nook price reduction may not be too late, but it's most certainly too little.

Ahead of its 7-inch Nook HD and 9-inch HD+ release this week, B&N has reduced the price of its Nook Color and Nook tablets. The Nook Color dropped $10 to $139, and the tablets dropped $20 to $179 for the 16GB model and $159 for the 8GB model. The price reduction might make a tiny wave for advertising purposes for a few days, and it brings the Nook pricing more in line with Kindle pricing Amazon already had, but $10-$20 is hardly going to leave a mark on the tablet market — and B&N sorely needs to make a mark at this point.

The release of the iPad mini is garnering the bulk of the current tablet buzz, and if executives at B&N are keeping up, they should be feeling nervous — not because the iPad mini is a better device than any of the Nook models (I’m sure that’s up for debate), but because the Nook devices and B&N aren’t even scoring ink in many reports.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, who covers tech and business at ZDNet, consulted experts to compare and comment on tablet displays; the tablets experts went to were Apple, Amazon and Google devices.

Angle investor, entrepreneur and industry analyst Jason Calacanis commented on the iPad mini in a review on his Launch Ticker, and in his first assessment (at 11:15 Friday on the The Ticker) he said: “This is going to be a huge, huge win for Apple, and I’m certain we’ll see at least a 10-20% price drop after the holiday. When this becomes a $249 or $219 device it’s going to fly off shelves. Also, this really puts the pressure on Google and Amazon.”

B&N didn’t even warrant pressure. These are just two examples, but still, it’s illuminating. It’s starting to feel like we’re closing in on the point where any move B&N may make in the coming months will be a last ditch effort to remain relevant in the tablet arena. O’Reilly publisher and GM Joe Wikert has suggested B&N offer a membership program, but I think we’re past that — I think it’s time for Wikert’s more recent suggestion of offering the low-end Nook for free with a long-term purchasing commitment of some sort. And B&N needs to jump on this soon.

It’s not a question of if the free-device-with-a-subscription-service is going to happen, but when and who — and this isn’t a trick you want to follow. The first one to do it is going to corner the low-end mass market, along with securing long-term ecosystem commitments in exchange. If B&N isn’t the one to make this wave, it may miss its chance altogether.

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