The service is provided by Livrada, a relatively new ebook startup.They've signed a deal with Random House and HarperCollins to distribute ebook gift cards for a handful of the publishers' best-selling titles, including Fifty Shades of Grey, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Gone Girl, and State of Wonder. The gift cards will be available for purchase in all 1700+ Target stores in the US.
This is more of a pilot program than anything, and only 6 titles will be offered on the cards. The gift cards will each be labeled with a specific title and readers will be able to redeem them in the Nook or Kindle Stores for the relevant title.
Livrada calls this a new idea, but it's not the first ebook card I've seen - not by a long shot. Zondervan, the Christian publisher, sold off a similar platform in 2010. And I know that back in 2009 B&N College used to use similar cards to sell digital textbooks. The B&N service was provided by MBS, and it died out right around the time that Barnes & Noble launched the Nook. And heck, the Livrada cards aren't even the first time that Target sold ebooks on a physical card; the LeapPad educational platform offers several upgrades as codes you buy on a card and then type in.
Still, it's good to see the idea get an opportunity to be tested on a larger commercial scale; given the widespread availability of gift cards there's a good chance that readers will go for it in a big way. I'm particularly interested in this because if it works out then it could be adopted by indie booksellers. What with Google abandoning them, they need to find a new way to sell ebooks so they're not shut out of the market.
On a related note, the timing of this launch answers a few questions. Livrada is a relatively young startup, which only launched in January 2012, and yet they got a deal with target and a Target. Now I understand why Target stopped selling the Kindle a few months back; they knew this was in the works. Target probably figured there was more money in selling ebooks than in selling Kindles, and they're probably right.