Walmart sells e-books now I guess

Living in what is essentially a tiny house on wheels, I love e-books and e-book readers. They allow me to maintain a full and growing library without the space and weight savings that having shelves full of dead tree editions entails. I own over 2,000 e-books. I review e-book readers and give advice on using them for one of the other outlets I write for.

None of this prepared me for the news that Rakuten Kobo has partnered with Walmart to sell e-books and at least one of its low-end e-book readers at Walmart.

According to The Digital Reader, Walmart will sell Kobo’s entry-level Aura reader model and possibly some of the company’s other excellent E-Ink reading devices, both in-store and online. This, to me, makes a lot of sense.

Given the problems Walmart has been having with Amazon drinking its tax milkshake in recent years, making some space for eBook devices seems like an easy way to try and take a bite out of a market that Amazon barely owns. close to North America…dedicated e-readers. It also makes sense for Kobo: while they make some really great hardware, they’ve had a hard time making inroads against Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers and the huge breadth of content Amazon provides. Having their gear in a national chain could help move Kobo’s parts a little further across the board.

What surprises me, however, is that in addition to Kobo’s e-book readers available in-store, Walmart will also be selling gift certificates for particular book titles. I understand that having eBooks on sale like this allows people to purchase a particular book for someone as a gift or as an impulse purchase. But it looks like a clumsy delivery system for digital content that, if you own a Kobo or have the Kobo app on your smartphone or tablet, you could otherwise buy with a click. It looks like a waste of shelf space. Sure, you can buy gift cards for Amazon or Apple gift certificates to snag iBooks. But either way, it’s more about having the credit to make any number or purchases at a later date. Giving cards space for individual e-book downloads seems half-baked in comparison.

That said, given Walmart’s reinvestment in online streaming as a path to financial salvation, I guess 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 how many independent businesses Walmart has been tasked with shutting down over the years, I feel like this is a great look for them.

Image via Flickr, courtesy of Brave New Films