* Launches lighter, 7-inch and 9-inch devices
* Tablets can have multiple users with own home pages
* Will hit U.S. stores in November
* Barnes & Noble shares up 1.9 percent
By Phil Wahba
NEW YORK, Sept 26 Barnes & Noble Inc
took a shot at archrival Amazon.com on Wednesday,
unveiling its own lighter and thinner hi-definition tablets
that can accommodate multiple users in a bid to win a bigger
share of the exploding tablet market.
The largest U.S. bookstore chain introduced the new devices
with price tags ranging from $199 for a 7-inch Nook HD tablet
with 8 gigabytes of memory, to $299 for a 9-inch Nook HD+
tablet, similar in size to Apple Inc's market-leading
iPad, with 32 GB of memory. IPad prices are roughly twice as
high for similar devices.
The new Nooks are the latest entrants in the fight for sales
of tablets and e-readers - and the digital content like books,
movies and magazines that goes with them. Barnes & Noble has
staked its future on its digital business as the company faces
an overall industrywide drop in the sales of physical books.
"A key growth area is to get their existing customer base
onto the digital platform," Forrester Research analyst Sarah
Rotman Epps told Reuters, saying the new devices were
competitive with similar products by Amazon in terms of features
Barnes & Noble faces formidable competition from Amazon,
which can use its Prime shipping service and amazon.com site to
draw users to its Kindle tablets, and Apple, which has sold tens
of millions of iPads.
To keep pace, Barnes & Noble added innovative features that
would allow each a family to share a Nook tablet, with each user
able to create a home page and customize preferences, the first
table to do so. There are also parental controls that can
prevent kids from reading "Fifty Shades of Grey" or go shopping
on the digital store.
The company is also launching a new video-streaming and
download service for Nook, narrowing the gap with Amazon and
Apple, which offer more content on their devices.
At a media event in Manhattan on Tuesday, officials said the
company had emphasized features such as image resolution and
page-turning technology given the needs of its basic customers,
book and magazine readers.
"We are playing in the tablet space, but reading is at our
core," Barnes & Noble Chief Executive William Lynch told Reuters
in an interview on Tuesday.
The 7-inch tablet weighs 11.1 ounces. Its larger sibling is
18.2 ounces, making it lighter than the iPad and making them
both more appropriate for reading, he added. The iPad weighs
about 23 ounces.
The top U.S. bookstore chain launched its first Nook device,
a basic e-reader, in 2009 and has held its own with
deep-pocketed rivals Amazon, Apple and Google Inc. That
success has allowed it to garner as much as 30 percent of the
U.S. electronic-books market.
Barnes & Noble's new devices, available for pre-order on
Wednesday, will ship in October and be in U.S. stores in
November. They will be on sale in Britain beginning in late
November at chains including Sainsbury's and Waitrose.
Shares of Barnes & Noble rose 1.9 percent to $12.49
in early New York Stock Exchange trading. On Nasdaq,
Amazon dipped 0.3 percent, while Apple fell 1.7 percent.
For a factbox comparing Nook, iPad and Kindle:
BRUISING PRICE WARS
The tablet market is among the fastest-growing sectors of
the technology industry. Research firm Gartner forecasts that
sales will almost double this year, to 118.9 million units.
Barnes & Noble's latest Nooks will appear in its nearly 700
stores as well as chains Best Buy Co Inc, Target Corp
and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Target and Wal-Mart
have decided to no longer carry Amazon's Kindles, giving the
Nook an edge at thousands of retail locations.
Amazon.com Inc earlier this month unveiled its own
HD tablets. It launched its first last year and says it has a 22
percent share of the U.S. market.
With the new Nooks, Barnes & Noble is also taking aim at
Apple, whose iPad is far more expensive, because there is room
in the market for a strong tablet at a lower price, Lynch said.
Questions about the Nook's long-term viability arose last
month after Barnes & Noble reported that Nook revenue including
ebooks last quarter was up only 0.3 percent, hurt by price
decreases early in the summer. That has added urgency to
developing new products.
Price wars with Amazon have been bruising, but Lynch was
undismayed: "We're growing the digital content portion of the
business, and that's where we envision making our economics,"
Last quarter, Barnes & Noble lost business when it didn't
have enough Nook devices that allow for reading in the dark.
Lynch said the company is now producing HD tablets in numbers
sufficient to meet what it expects will be strong demand during
the holiday period.
"We believe we'll gain significant share in the tablet
category, and we've planned for that from a production
standpoint. I believe these are going to be hot holiday gifts."