Barnes & Noble gets back to basics with Nook GlowLight

"We’re going to the core of what we are — the reading experience — rather than just sell a tablet," says the COO of Nook Media.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO---Barnes & Noble has gone back to its roots — and arguably the strongest spot of its hardware business — with the new Nook GlowLight e-reader.

The Nook business has undergone a long period of upheaval, to say the least, in the face of a digital media market shifting heavily in favor of e-commerce rival Amazon as well as Google and Apple. 

As things stand now, the tablet and e-reader brand has been split off as Nook Media. The majority of the department is owned by Barnes & Noble with Microsoft and Pearson signed on as investors.

Mahesh Veerina, who recently joined B&N in the last month as chief operating officer of Nook Media, acknowledged that there has also been a lot of misinterpretation about about the future of B&N’s hardware business. But he clarified that all of the user experience and industrial design continues to be done in-house. 

"We’re here to stay and continue to do these products,” Veerina explained. "We’re going to the core of what we are — the reading experience — rather than just sell a tablet."

"Everything we do going forward is going to be very reading-centric,” added Claudia Romanini Backus, vice president of product marketing for the Nook team. 

Backus who came over to Barnes & Noble from Motorola, listed some of the “basic pillars” that go into developing the Nook based upon customer feedback: readability (meaning the text needs to feel "paper-like"), a glare-less screen, and a long battery life.

Those pillars form the foundation of the latest iteration of the flagship electronic ink model, the Nook GlowLight, touted by B&N reps to be completely redesigned from the outside-in. 

"We’re here to stay and continue to do these products,” Veerina explained. "We’re going to the core of what we are — the reading experience — rather than just sell a tablet."

Barnes & Noble touted plenty of modifications to the user interface as well as the display quality with the usual upgrade with each generation to reduce the amount of flashing between pages.

But the most evident improvements start with the beauty on the outside. The Nook GlowLight is outfitted in an ergonomic, contoured, soft-touch “warm white" exterior with a new silicone trim intended to be comfortable in the palm of the reader’s hand.

At 175 grams (or 6.2 ounces), the Nook GlowLight is 15 percent lighter than the Kindle Paperwhite. During a demonstration last Friday, it became clear that this fine difference is not negligible, deserving the description “light as a feather” more than any other e-reader before it.

Having the word “GlowLight” in the title also warrants higher expectations among consumers. Barnes & Noble has gone back to the drawing board with the build-in lighting, spreading the glow more evenly across the entire page with the same amount of light across the display. Brightness can be controlled in the Settings menu with touch control, offering the potential to read content in virtually any lighting condition.

B&N has also doubled the amount of onboard storage space to 4GB total, meaning the GlowLight can hold up to 2,000 books in its local digital library.

On the interior, Barnes & Noble is also making a data-driven play to generate more content sales for its online bookstore through a custom-build engine. The system matches customer search and purchasing history with B&N’s own metadata-at-large across the company to produce what it hopes will be more relevant, personalized suggestions. 

Backus reiterated that B&N’s strategy is to concentrate on the reading experience over the hardware compared to competitors, which she wouldn’t name, arguing that there’s still a large demographic of consumers that are hesitant in moving from physical to digital content.

Veerina maintained an optimistic outlook for Barnes & Noble, asserting there’s “still a lot of work” in expanding in this particular market by connecting the dots between the device and social fronts. He also pointed out that B&N has "barely scratched the surface internationally” as well.

Nevertheless, the Nook GlowLight is only being launched domestically for the time being, available immediately in stores nationwide and online for for $119. As an extra incentive to build a more loyal fan base, a 10 percent discount will be available for Barnes & Noble book club members.

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