November 30, 2009, 8:45 AM — Earlier this fall there was a lot of talk about e-readers being a popular holiday gift this year. One poll indicated that 21% of respondents planned to get an e-reader this year. So why have Barnes & Noble and Sony done such a bad job of managing inventory?
Sony's flagship e-reader, the Reader Daily Edition, is available for pre-order, but orders have a ship date of anywhere from December 18th to January 8th, and Sony won't guarantee a delivery date. Barnes & Noble is shipping the Nook in time for the holidays, but only to people who pre-ordered before November 20th. Brick & mortar Barnes & Noble stores were supposed to get Nooks on November 30th, but that has been delayed to December 7th and now the Nook will only be in their "high-volume" stores in limited numbers, according to an article at The Wall Street Journal.
Normally I'd assume shortages of a potentially hot new gadget would be a marketing ploy: using artificial scarcity to drive up demand is a tactic used since hucksters were selling snake oil out of the back of their horse-drawn carriages. I don't think that's the case this time. People hoping to give or get an e-reader this holiday season have a readily available, popular alternative – the Amazon Kindle – which is in-stock and ready to ship (and Amazon is advertising the Kindle on TV).
So what's the truth here? Were Sony and Barnes & Noble just caught by surprise? Did they not expect their devices to sell? That makes no sense. Have they just been behind schedule since well before launch, unable to get ahead of demand? Maybe. All three of the 'major' e-reader vendors seems quite reluctant to talk numbers, which would suggest that those numbers aren't high enough to be impressive, so why can't they make enough of the things to meet demand? If this is a marketing tactic, it's a bad one.
Were you hoping to get a Nook or a Reader Daily Edition for the holidays? I had the Nook on my wishlist, personally. But given that it won't be here in time for the holidays, I've scratched it off my list and I'll possibly buy myself one later in the spring, or perhaps just wait for the inevitable improvements in some future Nook II (or a price cut). By blowing the ship date, Barnes & Noble has taken the urgency away from the purchase. If I really, really wanted an e-reader as a holiday gift, I'd "settle" for a Kindle since the gift buyers in my life can easily obtain one. Either way, Barnes & Noble (and the same would apply to Sony) has at best deferred and at worst lost a sale thanks to their inability to manufacture enough of their highly marketed device.
Hmm, what are the odds that December 7th hits and every Barnes & Noble store has stacks and stacks of Nooks for sale?