Workers prepare boxes of Navy eReader Devices in a warehouse to ship to members of submarine crews. 
Workers prepare boxes of Navy eReader Devices in a warehouse to ship to members of submarine crews.  - 
Listen To The Story

The latest e-reader to hit the market has no internet connection. There are no apps. You can’t download any book you want. There’s definitely no camera. 

Just about all you can do on it is read any of its 300 preloaded books.

This is an e-reader for a very niche market: bored sailors on Navy submarines. 

“It’s a little funny to be rolling out a new tech product that’s a couple generations behind,” jokes Nilya Carrato, program assistant with the Navy General Library Program.

Subs are cramped quarters. Most have a small library on board with 25 paperbacks. So, the Navy wanted a device that could hold far more, take up less space, but not pose a threat to security. That’s why it has no wireless connection or camera.  

The priorities in its development were “Ensuring security, durability, and really access to all of the titles that they want,” says Ralph Lazaro, vice president of digital products at Findaway World, the Ohio company building the device. 

And, like any new tech product, it needed a catchy name. The Navy first tried NR, for Navy Reader. Then, they thought Navy eReader, or “Ner” for short. Eventually, Carrato says, it clicked, and they came up with NeRD, for "Navy eReader Device".

“‘Nerd’ definitely doesn’t have the stigma it used to,” Carrato says.  

For now, the Navy has ordered 385 NeRDs. They cost $3,000 a piece, but most of that pays for the book titles. The Navy says the devices’ costs are minimal.  

The NeRDs have a mix of fiction and nonfiction, from best sellers to Pulizer winners. The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay is on board. 

Submarine sailors are allowed to bring along smartphones and Kindles, but there are restrictions on where devices with cameras can be used on board, and they must have their wireless connections disabled. 

“A submarine is a secure environment,” Carrato says.  

The NeRD is designed to expand the on-board library and give sailors options when they run out of their own books and downloads on long assignments. 

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.