New, cheaper Nook devices should expand audience for news apps, e-books

Barnes & Noble unveiled a new lineup of e-readers today, including a low-cost, color tablet that will compete with Amazon’s Kindle Fire and may tempt lightweight users away from the pricier, full-featured Apple iPad.

For publishers, the continued trend of lower prices is more interesting than the specific device features. Until this month, tablet ownership was mostly limited to people who could afford to spend $500 or more on an iPad. With the new Nook Tablet at $249 and a similar Nook Color at $199 (the same price as the Kindle Fire), publishers can expect accelerating consumer adoption of these media consumption devices.

The Nook Tablet from Barnes & Noble will cost $249.

Barnes & Noble also refreshed its Nook Simple Touch, a black-and-white device that uses e-ink, and dropped the price to $99. Amazon’s touchscreen Kindle, which also uses e-ink, is $99; the base Kindle is $79.

The upcoming holiday season should cause a surge of sales for these e-readers and tablets.

Publishers and independent authors will benefit most, as all of these devices expand the market for e-books. That’s a promising sign for newspapers that have repackaged news articles into e-books.

The color touchscreen devices for $199 and up also expand the audience for news apps. The Nook Tablet, Nook Color and Kindle Fire all will run a variant of the Android operating system. News organizations should be able to get their Android apps into the Nook and Amazon app stores, with some additional submission steps.

The devices also expand the market for the Nook Newsstand, which carries about 250 print-replica magazines and newspapers, and the Kindle Newsstand. Apple’s Newsstand for the iPad and iPhone, meanwhile, is having early success.

A recent Pew study found that 11 percent of U.S. adults own a tablet now; most of them use their devices to get news that they once got from print or TV. The good news is that studies show that tablets increase owners’ overall appetite for news.

There is an opportunity for traditional news organizations to make the tablet leap with their audiences. But it will require reinvention of content and storytelling, rethinking of business models, and fending off new competitors.

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