The e-reader arms race is on, and Barnes & Noble is the latest manufacturer to unveil its shiny, super-literate weapon. The Nook might not have the razzle-dazzle of the rumored Apple Tablet, but it's got brand name gravitas, WiFi, a color touchscreen -- enough for the Gizmodo boys to gloat that it "eats the [Amazon] Kindle's lunch." But the Barnes and Noble e-reader has another especially interesting twist: Book lending.
Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader, expected to be unveiled on Tuesday at a news conference in Manhattan, features Wi-Fi connectivity and the ability for customers to lend out e-books for 14 days at a time.
This is obviously great for consumers (provided they have a e-reader). Maybe Barnes & Noble's calculus is that the ability to share will encourage more people to buy books because it increases the books' utility. For example, I'm somewhat interested in buying sports writer Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball, but I might be more interested if I knew that I could lend the book to all my friends who read Simmons on ESPN every week so that we could talk about it later. This dream assumes, of course, that e-readers become as common as iPods. We're not there yet, but this explosion of e-readers from Amazon, B&N, Sony and others suggest that somebody smells a market waiting to blow up.