A Free E-Reader? Yes ... But With a Pricy Catch

Nook ereader
Nook ereader

Want a free Nook? It'll cost you.

Barnes & Noble (BKS) is offering its entry-level e-reader -- the Nook Simple Touch that normally retails for $99 -- for free to newspaper buffs willing to pay $19.99 a month for a year's subscription to the digital version of the New York Times' (NYT) namesake daily paper.

That's right: Commit to paying $240 for a year of a digital newspaper to save $99 on a portable e-reader.

Despite its recent guidance calling for a wider deficit this fiscal year, Barnes & Noble isn't a charity. Its clientele by definition is well-read. They know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. They can bathe in the irony of the not-so-free e-reader promotion.

However, if a potential Nook buyer was already considering using the lightweight gadget to subscribe to The New York Times, isn't this a great way to save $99?

Well, not so fast. There are a few things to consider here that may not seem so obvious at first.

All the (Fine Print) Discounts That Are Fit to Print

Subsidizing hardware isn't new. You probably got a great price on your smartphone -- whether you realize it or not -- because you were agreeing to a two-year contract. The free satellite receivers and installation you received when you became a satellite television customer were probably tethered to a minimum length programming contract.

It was really just a matter of time before subsidization worked its way into the e-reader market.

Gadgetry prices have dropped into the double digits for entry-level devices, and it won't be long before Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com (AMZN) offer several different newspapers, magazines, or perhaps even "book of the month club" memberships in exchange for free or substantially marked-down e-readers.

This still doesn't mean that you'll be getting a great deal.

Sponsored Links

What happens if -- a few months in -- you realize that you're at odds with the paper's political bent? What if you're just not reading the digital daily as much as you thought you would? What if The New York Times begins promoting digital subscriptions for less than the price you agreed to pay?

You're out of luck in any of those scenarios. You're tied to the $240 tab that includes the $99 Nook and the annual subscription.

You will also have to be careful.

"After the initial year, your New York Times subscription will automatically continue at the then current price, which you can cancel at anytime, without penalty," reads the offer's conditions.

In other words, if you're not interested in continuing with the subscription, you will need to cancel before that thirteenth bill kicks in. Set up a reminder in your calendar scheduling program or application of choice.

People Magazine More Your Speed?

The headline deal is a free Nook Simple Touch, but you can also turn that same $240 commitment for a year of The New York Times into shaving the price of a $199 Nook Color in half.

If you're looking for something else, Barnes & Noble is also teaming up with People magazine to cut $50 off the price of the $249 Nook tablet. A year of the weekly celebrity-tracking publication in digital form will set you back $9.99 a month.

All of these deals are available between now and March 9, but this is really just the beginning of the bundling. It won't be long before Barnes & Noble offers more ways to turn readers of leafy books into subsidized e-reader owners. It's also just a matter of time before Amazon follows suit.

You read it here first -- and for free, with no strings attached.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com.

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