Barnes & Noble said Friday it's creating boutiques within its stores for its Nook e-reader to "showcase" the digital device, software and accessories.
The 1,000-square-foot Nook Boutiques will start appearing in some stores this summer and the remainder this fall, Barnes & Noble said. The Apple Store-like boutiques will have demonstration tables, several Nooks that can be tried out and "an adjoining wall and large flat-panel display"
of video demonstrations running showing the e-readers. There will also be more than 100 accessories available, including Nook covers by fashion designers such as Kate Spade and Lilly Pulitzer. The boutiques will be staffed by employees who will also provide Nook demonstrations.
Barnes & Noble says that the prototype Nook Boutique is currently up and running in its Livingston, N.J. store.
It's an all-out effort by Barnes & Noble, with the Nook having entered the increasingly competitive e-reader field last December. The e-reader is vying for attention — and sales — with Amazon's popular Kindle and Apple's even more popular iPad, more than 3 million of which have been sold since that tablet's April release.
Barnes & Noble is doing this to exploit its advantage over Amazon: The former has physical stores, while the latter exists purely online. Few people touch a Kindle before they buy one, whereas anyone can touch a Nook first. Like Barnes & Noble, Apple has its stores for showing off iPads, but Amazon still must rely on the less tangible — reviews, word-of-mouth buzz and marketing on its own immensely popular retail site — to sell Kindles.
On Wednesday, Amazon unveiled a new Kindle that costs $10 less than the Nook. The new Kindle Wi-Fi that can only download books over wireless networks found in homes and coffee shops costs $139; the comparable Nook Wi-Fi is $149. Another Kindle that has both 3G and Wi-Fi is $189; the Nook with the same connectivity is $199.
It's not just the Kindle and iPad the Nook is up against. Sony's Reader Pocket Edition and Borders' Kobo e-reader are both $149.
The addition of the Nook boutiques "marks the importance and growth of digital and e-books for the company," Barnes & Noble said in a statement.
Barnes & Noble also recently announced recently an incentive to drive interest in its e-reader: free, classic books downloads for Nook owners through the summer.
The company said it will offer 10 different classics weekly. Among those offered so far: Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," "Grimm's Fairy Tales" and Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women." These royalty-free out-of-copyright books are generally available to owners of any e-reader, though finding them isn't always as simple.
And, in June, to help drive sales, Barnes & Noble issued $50 gift cards with each Nook.
And now comes the Nook Boutiques.
"We entered the e-book market a year ago confident our bookstores would be a huge competitive asset," said William J. Lynch, CEO of Barnes & Noble, in a statement. "No other company is doing what Barnes & Noble is doing, utilizing its store footprint and innovative technology to add value to the customer’s eReading experience — including unique features such as digital e-book lending, free Wi-Fi connectivity, in-store browsing of complete e-books and exclusive content, and more."