“Near-Field Technology” and eBooks: B&N’s Attempt to Combine Virtual and Physical

Barnes & Noble has released an idea that could change how we buy – and I’m surprised it has not happened sooner. In a blog post on ReadWriteWeb, B&N is said to be contemplating implementing “near-field technology” that will effectively give Nook eReaders the ability to scan barcodes. The scanning technology will allow shoppers in B&N stores to touch their Nook to a physical book in order to read the information chip embedded in the book, giving them access to external content as well as eBook purchasing information.

This crossover of physical and digital is happening anyways – by taking the existing practice of the consumer using the physical bookstore as a “showroom,” as the RWW blogger calls it, B&N might just have an interesting way to get those that read eBooks back into their stores. Getting the customer back into the store is key, since once they are there, they are more likely to buy something, which should increase the profitability of both the online and physical bookstores.

Increasing the profitability of the Nook system is essential to preventing Amazon from becoming the uncontested, monopolistic giant it strives to be. Amazon will be unable to implement the near field technology unless it decides to partner with another retailer (Costco? Walmart? Oh the horror.) or to open up Amazon stores (which may already be in the works). I am concerned that the near-field technology is a just a good idea that will not have any effect on sales for B&N, and I have no illusions that this technology will put B&N ahead of Amazon any time soon. RWW addresses the fact that B&N’s Nook is mostly sold out of their 391 stores in the US and that their recent partnership with Microsoft hopes to broaden their sales worldwide. Competition between companies that produce eReaders is going to improve the slow, sometimes temperamental devices that are out there – at which time I might actually purchase one.

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