Barnes & Noble Reader is Not What You May Expect [UPDATED]

| Quick Look Review

The new Barnes & Noble eReader for iPad is an app that’s essentially a portal to the eBooks that you’ve purchased. After you purchase in Safari and add to your online library, the eReader can download and view your purchases. You can also buy the physical book and have it shipped.

At first, it appeared that the books you buy are maintained in the B&N cloud, but after you purchase the book in Safari, it is actually downloaded to your iPad in the app. No 3G or Wi-Fi connection is required once the book is downloaded.


App home page

With the Barnes & Noble eReader for iPad, just about everything you do, except actually read your library of eBooks, is done on the Barnes & Noble website. That’s where you set up your account, purchase items, populate your eBook library at the B&N website, purchase physical books, and so on. No doubt, the motivation for this hybrid approach is so that Barnes & Noble doesn’t have to pay Apple the 30 percent tithe.

One thing I liked was that you’re not required to enter a credit card number to establish an online account. After setting up a basic account, you can enter a default credit card number if you wish, but before that you can do a lot of browsing and get a feel for the online store.

The app itself is free and is pre-populated with a welcome booklet that introduces the eReader. There are dozen or so sample books on display that you can either “download” or view a sample. The word download is euphemistic, of course, because you’re really just populating your online library in the B&N cloud. If you go to your eBooks Library, via Safari, you can delete these suggested books. (“Add Books” in the app -> Safari -> Get Started (bottom left) -> My eBooks Library) I deleted some already which is why my app’s home page in the screen shot above is so sparse. 

Click on the BN logo on the top left to see your account status and log off.


eBooks Main Page (links referenced are at bottom left)

You’ll also see a note there that B&N is temporarily suspending newspaper and magazine eBook purchases for iPod touch and iPhone until they work out some details to make the reading experience better. When I initially explored the magazine section on the iPad, I got a mix of responses. For Wired magazine, I was offered a 12 month subscription (paper) for $10.00. For Car & Driver, I got a display promoting the Zinio reader. (I think that’s the only way to get Car & Driver digitally.) That wasn’t what I expected, but I need to explore magazines in more depth. [ I have now, and the trick is to be on the eBook tab and select eMagazines and eNewspapers.]

The Barnes & Noble Website isn’t the easiest site to navigate. It seems that putting a colorful array of choices in your face, to induce a purchase, took precedence over clarity and navigation. That means emphasis on impulse buying as opposed to a considered search for specific books. However, if you search, you can find, under the eBook tab, the Browse eBooks near the left side. That will give you a way to search by category or author.

One thing that’s nice is a healthy section of free eBooks, under the Customer Favorites (bottom left) so you can try out the eReader. However, to download a free eBook, you must nevertheless enter your default credit card info. I felt manipulated by that, and declined to enter a credit card number out of sheer stubbornness at that point.

Back in the app itself, there are extensive options for the display of the book if you touch the top of the page. You can use the publisher settings or design your own, and you can set the page margin to suit you. Turning pages is just like iBooks, either swipe or touch the right edge, but iBook’s special effects are lacking.


Sample page & setings

The app reminds me that in this early phase of digital books, every player is throwing something out there and every player wants your credit card number. You have choices to make about the ease of use in the app, whether you own and back up your eBooks, and how many companies get your credit card number. Right now, I think Apple’s iBooks app is the easiest, prettiest and most coherent solution. Barnes and Noble, however, has made a severe choice for the user interface and ease of use with this hybrid approach in order to keep that precious 30 percent. It’s not my cup of tea, but you may not mind in order to broaden your choices.



Let me get this really straight: Nothing downloaded ever, so if I buy a book, I can only read it when I am connected to the Great Cloud? So since I have the Wi-Fi iPad, there’s no going outside and reading a book in the hammock (too far from my network), no reading on the train or bus commute, or on a long car drive.

And I am supposed to pay for this not so accessible content? I don’t think so. I mean, a paper book takes physical space, but I can read it anywhere, Cloud or no Cloud. I’ll stick with the iBookstore.

John Martellaro

That’s what it looked like to me from my initial quick look. I hope I’m wrong.


For B&N’s sake, I hope you are wrong. That would be an incredibly lame implementation of an e-reader app.

Bryan Wolfe

Not true.  Once you download book, it is stored on iPad with no connection required.

John Martellaro

Reader Wolfe is correct. I confirmed with a purchased eBook. The review has been updated.


Thanks to Bryan and John for clarifying the location of the eBook files, that initially seemed like an incredibly bad stroke of genius. Now I may have to check out the B&N e-reader after all. Call me old-fashioned, but I do not want all my content living in the Cloud.


But one feature missing from the B&N iPad app is the ability to lock the orientation via software, instead of have to use the slider lock button on the iPad itself.  This was there in the iPhone version, but is missing in the iPad version.


One good thing, and one bad thing.

The good thing is that you can use your membership number for discounts, though I’m not sure if that’s true for e-book sales, and next, I’ll explain why.

Why (the bad thing) is because our membership is in my wife’s name, as she’s the one who first applied. Never a problem in any of their stores, but when I went to sign up in the app, it wouldn’t accept it because it wasn’t under my name. So Monday, I’ll call their help number and see if I can straighten that out. I hope so.

So I don’t yet know if e-books are added into the membership discount.


Wow, B&N is really going out of their way NOT to sell their books in iBooks, huh? Well, when they compare their sales stats with their iBooks competitors I think they may want to rethink their strategy.

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