Living in what's essentially a tiny house on wheels, I love eBooks and eBook readers. They allow me to maintain a complete and growing library without the space and weight gains that owning shelves full of dead tree editions come with. I own over 2,000 eBooks. I review eBook readers and provide tips on using them for one of the other outlets that I write for.
None of this prepared me for the news that Rakuten Kobo has paired with Walmart to sell eBooks and at least one of its lower-end ebook readers at Walmart.
According to The Digital Reader, Walmart will be selling Kobo's base model Aura reader and possibly some of the company's other excellent E-Ink reading devices as well, in store and online. This, to me, makes a lot of sense.
Given the issues that Walmart is having with Amazon drinking their fiscal milkshake these past few years, making a bit of space for eBook appliances seems like an easy way to attempt to take a bite out of a market that Amazon pretty much owns in North America—dedicated electronic reading devices. It makes sense for Kobo too: despite their making some really great hardware, they've been having a hell of a time making in-roads against Amazon's Kindle eBook readers and the massive scope of content that Amazon provides. Having their gear in a national chain might help to move Kobo's pieces a little further across the board.
What I am surprised by, however, is that, in addition to Kobo's eBook readers being available in-store, Walmart will also be selling gift certificates for particular book titles. I get that having eBooks on sale like this allows folks to buy a particular book for someone as a gift or an impulse buy. But it feels like a clunky delivery system for digital content that, if you own a Kobo or have the Kobo app on your smartphone or tablet, you could otherwise just buy with a single click. It feels like a waste of shelf space. Granted, you can buy gift cards for Amazon, or Apple gift certificates to snag iBooks with. But both of those are more about having the credit required to make any number or purchases at a later date. Giving space over to cards for individual digital book downloads feels half-baked by comparison.
That said, given Walmart's re-investment in online streaming as a path to financial salvation, I suppose that I shouldn't be too surprised. These are the actions of a brick-and-mortar empire trying to survive in an increasingly digital world. Given the number of independent businesses that Walmart's been responsible for shuttering over the years, I kind of feel like this is a great look for them.
Image via Flickr, courtesy of Brave New Films