Knowing Is Glowing

Just as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker brandished glowing lightsabers in a battle for supremacy, glowing e-readers appear to be the next battlefield between Barnes & Noble (NYS: BKS) and (NAS: AMZN) .

Last week, TechCrunch unearthed a Kindle prototype featuring a glowing front-lit display on top of the E Ink screen. The level of illumination is adjustable, but it essentially solves the problem of E Ink readers in low-light environments without introducing the eye strain that make Apple's (NAS: AAPL) iPad and even Amazon's own Kindle Fire poor choices for prolonged bursts of reading.

Not to be outdone, The Digital Reader posted a snapshot yesterday of a leaked in-store Barnes & Noble ad for Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. The e-reader in the ad is glowing, hinting that the struggling bookseller may be closer to releasing its illuminated e-reader than Amazon.

Time will tell, of course.

Things will probably get interesting. If Amazon's plans were to release its illuminated Kindle just before the holiday shopping season, does it rush it to market if Barnes & Noble gives GlowLight a springtime debut?

If this is a game changer and more than a novelty -- and with so many folks having a Kindle by their beds and external sources of light this really will raise the ante -- neither party can afford to let the other beat it to the market.

Barnes & Noble simply doesn't have the financial resources to continue to stay in what appears to be a profitless battle against Amazon. Analysts don't see Barnes & Noble returning to annual profitability until fiscal 2014. Amazon has the time, but will investors have the patience if margins continue to contract?

Neither company can turn back now. The traditional books that both companies started out selling are burning. Digital delivery is here to stay.

Both companies can win here. E Ink displays with front-lit lighting may very well eat into tablet sales, though obviously e-reading is just one of the many tablet applications. At the very least, it will trigger an upgrade cycle among existing e-reader owners.

The future will be illuminating, indeed.

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