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Are the E-Reader’s Days Numbered?

By pumping $300 million into the Nook, Microsoft may actually be betting against Barnes and Noble’s e-reader.

The software giant plans to include the Nook app in its new Windows 8 operating system, which experts say suggests the two companies think the future of digital books is on computers, cellphones, and tablets – not just traditional e-readers. “Barnes & Noble will likely become more device agnostic,” says Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.com, one of the world’s largest distributor of self-published e-books. “Consumers will be able to read Barnes & Noble e-books on a wide range of devices.”

As it is, only 41% of people read e-books on the Nook or Kindle, according to a study released this month by Pew Research. Some 29% read them on cell phones, 23% on tablets and 42% on computers. Since most people have their phone with them at all times, it’s not surprising that phones and work computers would be used for reading in addition separate e-readers, analysts say.

“People might start a book on their personal computer, continue reading it on Windows 8 tablet while on the subway, then finish reading it back on their iPhone in the doctor’s waiting room,” Coker says. Microsoft’s power to put the Nook software on all of its desktops, laptops, cell phones and tablets “should only streamline and improve that experience,” says Alina Adams, an e-book consultant.

That said, for many people, e-ink-based readers may continue to be wildly popular, analysts say. “I don’t think Microsoft’s investment will mean everyone will change where they’re reading e-books,” says Joshua Tallent, the founder and CEO of eBook Architects. But making e-reading desirable on more devices will further boost the number of digital books purchased, he says. Already, according to Pew, one-fifth of American adults say they have read an e-book in the past year.

And regardless of where they read books, consumers may benefit in other ways from the battle for between Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, experts say. Readers may be able to simultaneously use apps for Kindle, Nook, and Apple iBooks to seek about the best deals. And with competition intensifying, the major players will likely find ways to stand out, experts say. “You may see Microsoft and Apple tie some big-name authors into an exclusive deal to sell their digital content just like certain games are available only through Sony’s PlayStation 3 or Microsoft’s XBox,” says Mike Essex, online manager for Koozai, a London-based digital marketing agency. Not every author will want to sign up for such a deal, he says, but they could sign up for a limited time only. And, Adams says, increased competition means more interactive features on e-books apps like video and audio extras to lure readers.

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