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B&N offers free e-reader with Nook HD+ for limited time

From March 24 through 30, Barnes & Noble will throw in a free Nook Simple Touch when you buy its larger HD+ tablet.

For a limited time, if you buy the Nook HD+ tablet, you'll get a free e-reader. Sarah Tew/CNET

Over the last few months, Barnes & Noble has been running a number of special deals on the Nook HD+, the larger of its two tablets, including a free credit of $50 to spend on Nook content. But now the company is taking things a step further by throwing in a free Nook Simple Touch E Ink e-reader -- usually $79 -- with the purchase of Nook HD+, which starts at $269 for the 16GB model. The offer is available from March 24 to 30.

The deal comes at a turbulent time for the company. Much has been written lately about slowing sales in Barnes & Noble's Nook division and how sales of Nook devices fell short of expectations over the last holiday season despite generally good reviews for the products. (CNET described the Nook HD+ as a "fantastic tablet value.")

It's not surprising, then, that the company would try to kill two birds with one stone and bundle its long-in-the-tooth entry-level e-reader and its higher priced tablet (the company also sells the smaller 7-inch Nook HD for $199), especially after Amazon recently reduced the price of its competing Kindle HD 8.9-inch tablet to $269.

But beyond the simple fact that Barnes & Noble is trying to move inventory, the big question is whether the special offer signals that the company has a new product -- or products -- on the horizon. Last month, when rumors circulated that the company was looking at getting out of the hardware business, B&N spokesperson Mary Ellen Keating told CNET, "We have no plans to discontinue our award-winning line of Nook products."

You can take that at face value or not, but if B&N does plan to continue in the hardware game, its Nook E Ink line is due for a refresh, particularly as we head into the warmer summer months when sales of e-ink readers, which are readable in direct sunlight, tend to perk up. (B&N also sells the $99 Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, but that, too, is due for a refresh; it debuted in April 2012).

True, as more consumers gravitate toward multipurpose tablets, the dedicated e-reader has been viewed by many as a dying breed. But companies tend to plan, design, and engineer products months or even years in advance of their releases, so presumably B&N has next-generation e-readers and tablets in the works. The question is when -- and if -- they'll see the light of the marketplace.