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Barnes & Noble Plans Branded e-Book Reader?

Barnes & Noble may be poised to strike back at rival Amazon in the e-reader market by selling its own device as early as next month.

If reports are true, B&N (NYSE: BKS) will start selling a touch-screen, wireless e-reader in November aimed at grabbing some of the holiday market share from the leader in the sector, Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) family of Kindles.

Of course, it's too early to tell if a B&N wireless e-reader could threaten the Kindle, said one analyst, but B&N does have the potential to challenge Amazon.

"Until we see the device, it is hard to predict how well they will fare given the competition, but Barnes & Noble is an important force in books and they could emerge as a serious e-reader and e-book player if their products are solid and competitive," Tim Bajarin, analyst with Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com.

Rumors have also surfaced speculating that Barnes & Noble's device will run on Android, the mobile open source platform backed by Google and appearing in smartphones by HTC, Motorola and Samsung.

Bajarin said that while this could be the case, Barnes & Noble's challenge will be to set itself apart from the competition, arguing that the firm should focus on leveraging its retail and online channels to market the product.

"Android was designed as an OS for smartphones, so it is unclear how Android has been evolved for use on an e-reader. However, it is an OS with a solid user interface and could be adapted for this purpose," he said. "But the success of the B&N e-book reader will come more from its ability to allow users to easily read and navigate among the e-book content they purchase and the types of ways B&N creates the device to differentiate it from Amazon and other competitors."

Barnes & Noble had not returned calls by press time.

Its own branded e-reader would not be the company's only play for a portion of the burgeoning e-book market. Barnes & Noble is also partnering with iRex Technologies and Plastic Logic in their respective e-reader roll outs by preloading the devices with its online bookstore.

The iRex DR800SG, due out next month, sports several features that will also compete directly with the popular Amazon Kindle, including an 8.1-inch touchscreen, the capability to connect to the Internet overseas and support for open digital book formats. iRex (short for interactive reading experiences) Technologies already sells a popular e-reader in Europe.

Hardware vendor Plastic Logic is due out with a device in early 2010, which will be targeted at the business user with a screen about the size of a sheet of paper.

Meanwhile, Amazon is going back on the offensive by introducing a new international Kindle and cutting the price. The online retailer this week unveiled a new e-reader that will allow users to wirelessly download content in 100 countries, available for pre-order for $279. The Kindle with U.S. & International Wireless goes on sale Oct. 19. It also cut the price of its older Kindle 2 model to $259 from $299.

The emerging popularity of e-readers doesn't figure to slow down anytime soon, said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, who just released a report raising her projections for holiday e-reader sales.

"This holiday season, e-readers will be one category that's a breakout success," Epps said. "Lower prices, more content, better distribution and lots of media hype are contributing to faster-than-expected adoption of e-reader devices in 2009."

She is now projecting e-reader sales to hit 3 million units in 2009, up substantially from an earlier estimate of 2 million units, buoyed by a strong November and December, when Epps is forecasting sales of 900,000 units.

She looks for the category's momentum to continue into next year.

"Based on a number of factors, we expect sales in 2010 to double, bringing cumulative sales of e-readers to 10 million by year-end 2010," she said. "If the category expands beyond e-ink-based displays in a substantial way, 2010 sales can easily surpass this projection."

Sony (NYSE: SNE) is also beefing up its presence in the sector with the recent launch of an e-book publishing portal. It also recently unveiled the Reader Daily Edition, with a 7-inch screen that, like the iRex, costs $399, includes a touch screen and supports the EPUB standard.

The Reader Daily Edition is Sony's first e-reader to include wireless 3G connectivity, and is set to go on sale in time for the holiday season.

Taiwan-based PC hardware maker Asus is also prepping a budget-priced e-reader for release later this year.

Asus, most recently known for pioneering and helping to popularize the low-cost netbook PC category, is set to release its e-reader dubbed Eee Reader for about $160 -- a price tag that some analysts see as the sweet spot for enticing new buyers.