Strong March shipments for Barnes & Noble's Nook

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We haven't talked a whole lot about the Barnes & Noble Nook since its launch last December, but given one bit of news that came out yesterday, it felt like the right time to see what's been going on with this dual-screened e-reader.

The big news yesterday is that according to a Digitimes Research analyst, the Nook shipped more units than the Amazon Kindle in the month of March. This statement is based on figures from upstream suppliers, so there's definitely an element of speculation in the numbers, but Digitimes says the Nook accounted for 53% of the e-readers shipped to vendors during that month. Keep in mind that this is numbers shipped, not sell-through numbers, but it still seems like a positive sign for the Nook.

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Backing up a bit, last week the Nook got a pretty significant software update. The update finally added the Read in Store feature that was mentioned earlier, meaning you can take your Nook to a Barnes & Noble store, connect to the in-store WiFi and read from a selection of e-books for free. In theory you can read the whole book, but access is limited to an hour per day. Sounds like a nice way to spend a lunch hour to me. If you're hooked by the end of your hour you can buy the e-book and keep reading; it's like picking up a print book only you're not leaving your greasy fingerprints on a copy of a book you ultimately decide not to buy!

The update also added a couple of games (Sudoku and Chess) and improved performance. CNET has a nice run down of the new features based on a hands on demo during which they asked the Barnes & Noble representative if and when there'd be a B&N eReader App for the iPad. The news is good. Yes there will be one and it is expected some time in May. The app will be tailored to the iPad, with an iPhone/iPod Touch version following shortly afterwards.

Lastly is the news that Best Buy has started selling the Nook, as of April 18th, for the standard Nook price of $259. (Could this be part of the reason for those big March numbers? Would Nooks destined for Best Buy stores have shipped as early as March?) Presumably being in Best Buy will expose a whole new segment of consumers to the Nook, and hopefully we'll see some discounts or sales once the device is in a "big box" store.

Barnes & Noble faces a new challenge later this month when Amazon starts selling the Kindle in Target stores. For the first time, consumers will be able to walk into a store and handle a Kindle before deciding whether or not to buy one. This has been an advantage that Barnes & Noble held over Amazon up until now.

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