Nook Encounter

New York City News Publishing Technology

I've really been looking forward to checking out the Nook e-reader, Barnes and Noble's new major competitor to Amazon's Kindle. I had the most positive attitude in the world last week when I showed up at a big new Nook demonstration booth on the ground floor of the Barnes and Noble bookstore on Union Square in New York City. One reason I've had high hopes for the Nook is that I haven't been impressed by the Kindle's physical specifications or its price, and I'm just waiting for some company to develop a practical, affordable, compact, ergonomic device that will blow the electronic reader marketplace open.

So I picked up a Nook at this display exhibit and tried to navigate around an electronic edition of Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. But I quickly found myself confused about which buttons to press. Maybe I should have read a manual before I started clicking around -- but, then, I can work an iPod or a Droid without reading a manual, so why should I need a manual to work a Nook?

The Barnes and Noble store exhibit was manned by a young hipster, but I was reluctant to ask him questions since he wore the exasperated expression (and hair/beard style) of a clerk in a Kevin Smith movie. I clicked around, trying to find the cover of Tale of Two Cities (I wanted to see if it would be in color) or the table of contents (so I could see how the internal navigation worked), until I finally ended up with an incomprehensible error message. I now called the young salesman over, but he made me feel like I was bothering him. "That's just a demo book," he said. "It's not real, the controls don't all work"

I don't understand why the Nook sales crew wouldn't put real books in their display devices. At least I could admire the device's small size, I thought, since I wanted to find something positive to say about the Nook. "I'm just going to see if this fits in my jeans pocket," I said to the sales guy. He said okay, but when I tried to slip it into my pocket a little cable connection between the device and its display case unsnapped and a loud anti-theft beeper started blaring through the store. The hipster sales guy jumped. "That -- was -- a -- bad -- thing -- to -- do ..." he sputtered angrily. I had clearly ruined his whole day now.

"Sorry," I said. "Didn't know that would happen."

"Yeah," he said, furiously typing in an anti-theft recovery sequence on his computer. "Just ... go."

The Nook didn't make a very good first impression on me. And Barnes and Noble really ought to fire their clueless demonstrator who made me feel like I was wasting his time by asking questions about the device he was there to sell.

22 Responses to "Nook Encounter"

Isn't it a prequisite to insult customers one deems less hip than someone you feel superior to? Did the clerk really say, "Just...go."?
Does Borders have an electronic reader?
I am pretty tired of the heavy sell for the Barnes&Nobles card--I accidentally recited the pitch back to a cashier and pissed her off--so tired that I don't want to shop there and am embarrassed at the amount I spent on books in '09. And none were for work! Or studying Chinese!

Did the clerk really say that?

Funny, I had a salesperson at a Barnes & Nobel in Los Angeles just the other day who also acted like she couldn't be bothered with my request to return a gift receipted item. Amazing attitude. I wanted to scream at her and say, 'Hey, you work in a bookstore! A bookstore! Get it? You help people here. You make us want to buy books. You don't drive us away into the night wishing we'd just stayed home to watch television!'

Most of the Barnes & Noble employees that I have asked a Nook question to have not had even the slightest idea what to to say about it at all. Incredible. It is my understanding from reading various reviews that the Nook is a first generation dud. I wouldn't buy one yet. Wait and see.

Frankly, after being very interested in all this ereader news, I'm totally bored and enjoying the paperback I bought at the grocery store the other day. 'Up in the Air' is actually a decent novel. I had no idea. I might even see the movie now.

by mike on

Ha ! First they give you a book without a book on it and then they arrest you for tryin' to jack it. Funny story ! a launching pad for your memoirs part 3. May 2010 be the best there's ever been.

by Steve Plonk on

I know how it is... We have BooksAMillion as competitor for Barnes & Noble down here. I recently got THE SHADOW OF SIRIUS by W. S. Merwin there. I'd special ordered it and it came in late. They had trouble finding it in the orders stack. Someone inadvertently had put it back in the regular for sales stack. They found it just as I was losing patience with them. They used to be more internet friendly.

W. S. Merwin's pulitzer prize book was well worth waiting for. However,
I wish the customer service had not been so inept at that time. Usually, they give good service, as does Barnes & Noble, and they are a closer drive to me.

There is also a nice bookstore in downtown Chattanooga whose name escapes me--tell you later. Of course, 4th and Broad, in Chattanooga, is not Union Square in NYC. I think the store's name is
Rockpoint Books or something like that. I've shopped there occasionally.
Across the street is a bookstore call AllBooks. It, too, is good, especially for used books and 'zines...I remember shopping in Union Square with my wife back in 1979. Of course, it has changed quite a bit since then, I should imagine.

by Steve Plonk on

There appears to be a delay in my comments going on-screen.

by Steve on

"exhibit was manned by a young hipster, but I was reluctant to ask him questions since he wore the exasperated expression (and hair/beard style) of a clerk in a Kevin Smith movie."

Geez, I just saw this guy at my new gym in Paramus NJ this morning. He sure gets around!

by Levi on

Warren, yes, he really did say it like that. Hah.

It's funny, it wasn't until after I read these comments that it occurred to me that this bookseller may not have been passively incompetent but rather might have been actively expressing his distaste for the whole Nook concept. Either way, he's not helping B&N out.

I also meant to point out in the story above that nobody but me was looking at the Nook at the time that I so rudely interrupted the salesperson's staring off into space.

by Xyz on

Not giving my real name here, since I work for B&N, but here's the thing with the Nook:

They rushed it onto the sales floor in the midst of the holiday season, where the training of seasonal employees is usually enough of a task anytime after Black Friday, much less trying to convey a complete working knowledge of an "advanced" electronic device to a bookselling staff of 50+ ages 18-60.

Problems with the initial software required an 1.1 update, and there's already a 1.1.1 I believe. The instructions are vague, written with an assumption of previous experience using other similar devices.

But the biggest issue is that the device was rolled out in a manner that did not give stores sufficient time to train and inform the booksellers. I'm still constantly training sellers since I'm more comfortable with discussing aspects of it, and part of the training is trying to convey enthusiasm about the device, but honestly, it is hard. The error messages, the flaky response time of the touch screen, and the general unintuitive operation of the device have flustered those booksellers who already own an e-reader.

It's a nice idea, it really is, but it does not function in a way that is easy to be trained on to the point of being comfortable, especially not with the frequency of errors and unexpected responses. Hopefully the nature of the software will allow some of the problems to be fixed, but the failure to roll it out in a manner that allowed booksellers to become informed in a comfortable, unrushed way is irreversible.

by Levi on

That makes a lot of sense, xyz, and it's nice to hear from a B&N spy. I can picture the scenario you're describing. Thanks for posting.

I was also pretty unimpressed with the nook, but then again, I'm not all that interested in an eReader. My sales lady was at least friendly, but I had the same problem with her not really knowing how to work it, and with the "demo" book.

In general, I try to stick to independent book stores, because the staff is friendlier and much more knowledgeable. The larger ones always have a better book selection--they are in the business because they love books, so they're willing to take more chances than a big box store.

Technology brings the new to new and where can the old find someplace to hide these years are deaf and we glean such unimportant gasps out far in the sea of The Nook. You know?

by Cal on

A couple of years ago I had to be dragged from a B&N in Hollywood in order to keep me from beating a clerk to death. Ignorance, rudeness, and then the temerity to insult me drove me over the edge. A complaint to management went nowhere, as rudeness & ignorance are not anathema but are actually prerequisite to customer service jobs in LA.

My solution to the general rudeness, ignorance, and apathy of the average B&N employee: avoid shopping there at all costs. Basically, I use my local B&N to browse books I later buy on Amazon or a local independent store (Book Soup on Sunset rocks!!!). I call it "raping the corporate bookstore." It soothes my anarchic soul.

by Bill_Ectric on

Maybe the folks at the B&N store,
Need to learn that Christmas is more,
Than rushing unfinished toys into the mall,
And clerks whose hearts are two sizes too small.

by mtmynd on

Does B&N really think they can compete against Sony and Amazon in this e-book game? Surely they know they're swimming against the tide here and don't have near the muscle they obviously thought they did when the initially dreamt up this nook.

Not to mention the whispers of Apple's new entry into the field... which could be another Job's coup in the entertaining field of the 'Electronic Wonderland', or as Apple might view it 'iWIN'.

by Bill_Ectric on

Is there one e-book reader that works with any ebook, or are there different formats of ebook that only work on certain devices? My 12 year old nephew has an iPhone with eBooks in it that look just fine to me, but I didn't get a chance to ask him if he can only get certain books.

by caffeine head on

I told the B&N Nook demonstrator - a polite and friendly middle-aged lady, who accosted me when I entered the store - that I own a thousand books, and that I may talk to her when I am done reading them.

The Nook and the Kindle are for people who wish to have fun messing around with electronic devices. Nothing wrong with that, I've been there.

But if you wish to read books, you don't need these plastic knickknacks to do so.

by Bill E. on

Well, caffeine head, I have mixed feelings about it. Sometimes I'll find a book I've been thinking about reading, available to download, for 90 cents, maybe even free, and I'm like, wow, I could just download that thing without even driving anywhere. Sometimes they are free! On the other hand, there's something to be said for actually getting out among people, buying a cup of coffee, the look and feel of the books, and not relying on batteries or electrical outlets.

by mtmynd on

It is the future and the future is here, whether we embrace it or not, the future does not care.

Caffeine Head, as you know the same was said about the computer not so very long ago... a kind of over-priced word-processor that had limited appeal until the internet and then... (this is where Levi steps in with his history of that amazing internet that has revolutionized our lives and will continue doing so...)

Having the responsibility of storing and caring for 1,000 books can be overwhelming given space is becoming more and more expensive with each passing day. Whereas these "new fangled e-books" can store 1500 'books' in less space than a Marvel comic, with far less headaches and worry about moisture and insects lurking in the shadows waiting to consume each volume with the voraciousness of a pack of hungry wolves watching a flock of sheep.

by caffeine head on

Yeah, I can see how people who like to read the bestsellers of 2010 might appreciate an electronic reader. But I can't see that the writers of the current day are any more brilliant than the ones in the past - human nature is immutable, after all.

So I read the bestsellers of 1994, 1972, 1957, 1948, 1923, 1899, 1854, and so on. I can acquire them for twenty-five cents to two dollars. Can't recall the last time I've bought a new book - why should I?

I just gotta get caught up with the ones I've already bought.

My Macintosh 128 (the original white plastic version with the tiny B&W screen) - the hippest technology of 1984 - sits in my attic, unused and unusable. But a leather-bound set of Dickens, printed in 1898, will be readable forever.

by Tim Barrus on

All of this is FASCINATING. If you think the bookstores are ignorant -- ie: Vooks, Nooks, Kindle -- the literary agents are WORSE.

Mary Scriver and I have been constructing a vook and putting it in front of agents.

Sometimes the reaction is simply: duuhhh...

But mainly the reaction is OUTRIGHT HOSTILITY.

Seriously, their piece of the pie is disappearing faster than Amazon can make Kinles.

What I want to know is, if Amazon is making it easier and easier for writers to have their books on Kindle: WHY DO WE NEED PUBLISHERS.

This from Booksahead:

http://booksahead.com/?p=939

Gatekeepers are no longer valued, they are despised by people who feel they have the ability to judge information and ideas for themselves. As Jacques Rancière puts it in his latest book, The Emancipated Spectator, “There are not two sorts of intelligence separated by a gulf” in a truly democratic marketplace of ideas, there are different perspectives that demand free rein and resent gatekeepers.

No one entity or person can/needs to control the flow of knowledge when everyone can do their little part by tagging, rating, reviewing and commenting on parts of the data flow; this is “crowdsourcing” in the fully positive sense, free from the stain of mob mentality, which can play an important role in an unbridled cataract of information.

by barbara on

mtmynd, I love the name iWIN... with all the hoopla of what they are going to name their new gadget... I think you should serioulsy propose this to Steve Jobs!!! It's fun! I think you should copy what you wrote here and send it off to Apple! Thanks for the laugh... I like the way your mind works.

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