Barnes & Noble just announced the launch of a Wi-Fi-only version of its Nook e-book reader. This new version of the Nook will retail for $149. In addition, B&N also dropped the price of the 3G-enabled Nook to $199. Besides being Wi-Fi-only, the new version of the Nook is virtually identical to the Nook 3G. It will come with the same set of features as the original Nook, including the ability to lend some e-books to friends and use B&N’s “Read in Store” feature to browse complete books on the Nook while using B&N’s in-store Wi-Fi network.

The Wi-Fi-only Nook is available for pre-order now and will ship later this week. Thanks to an agreement with AT&T, Nook Wi-Fi owners will receive complimentary access to AT&T’s Wi-Fi network.

Will the Kindle Follow?

As dedicated e-readers like the Kindle, Sony Reader and the Nook come under strong pressure from tablets like the iPad, chances are that we will see more price drops in the near future. At $259, the cheapest version of the Kindle now looks overpriced compared to the Nook, which also offers a wider range of features. As B&N’s press release notes, at $199 the Nook 3G is now “the market’s first under-$200 dedicated full-featured eBook reader that offers both free 3G wireless and Wi-Fi connectivity.”

The Beginning of the End for E-Readers?

As Fast Company’s Kit Eaton points out, B&N’s price drop can also be seen as the beginning of the “e-reader’s demise” and the start of a race to the bottom. As manufacturers struggle to bring the price of their devices down to the point where e-readers become attractive to a mainstream audience, they inevitably also have to cut some features. At the same time, tablets offer far more flexibility than dedicated e-readers.

According to a recent study by Informa Telecoms & Media, the market for dedicated e-readers will likely peak within the next two years, as consumers flock to tablet computers instead. According to Informa, the only way for e-readers to survive is to strip the devices of their wireless connectivity and make them as cheap as possible, i.e. under $99.

frederic lardinois