The CEA (Consumer Electronics Assn.) just released new numbers indicating one in five (20%) of U.S. adults who are online own a tablet. Increasingly, these tablets may be an ereader/tablet hybrid, such as the Amazon Kindle Fire or Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet. While it’s unknown how many of the tablets people are buying are NOOKs, consumers loyal to the Barnes & Noble-branded ereader can rest assured it should be around for a long time.

Microsoft just invested $300 million into a venture with Barnes & Noble that will house the company’s digital and college education businesses. We can all see the link there: College textbooks are gaining ground as digital editions. Who wouldn’t want an ebook instead of a 15-lb. hardback in their bookbag?

Microsoft will make additional investments in the new business during the next few years. It’s a good thing for both companies. Microsoft, which previously didn’t really have a stake in the ereading business, will likely include the NOOK platform on upcoming Windows 8 tablets. This could essentially provide a link to a digital bookstore for Microsoft devices, much like the Kindle’s direct link to Amazon for purchases.

Barnes & Noble not only obtains an infusion of cash, it gets more places to install its platform. With the prices for ereaders constantly pushing lower, it’s imperative to make sure more consumers have access to the NOOK platform to buy ebooks.

Perhaps one of the more interesting questions is, what does this mean for Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar stores? The fact that the company seems to be putting more distance between its digital business and its physical stores isn’t especially promising. Sales of ebooks are strong, and in some cases they are outselling physical books. Can Barnes & Noble keeps its storefront locations afloat, while at the same time pushing people to buy NOOKs and ebooks? It seems difficult to me, but perhaps there are enough traditional-book loving consumers to buy all those paperbacks and hard covers. But somehow, I doubt it.

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