In June 2012 Sainsbury's acquired a majority share in Anobii by buying the 64% stake owned by UK media retailer HMV, and today Sainsbury's bought the remaining 12% and 24% held by HarperCollins and Penguin Random House, respectively.
Sainsbury's now has full ownership of the Anobii ebook platform and ebookstore (but not the social network), including eBooks by Sainsbury's, the ebook retail site which it had launched in January 2013. According to the press release, Sainsbury’s is buying out its partners in order to gain full control of the platform "as part of its growing Sainsbury’s Entertainment digital offer". The retailer plans to "offer customers an enhanced digital entertainment experience across film, music and books via Sainsbury’s Entertainment website".
Tim Lennox, managing director of eBooks by Sainsbury’s and the new head of the new online entertainment business, said: "This is the logical next step in our commitment to growing our digital entertainment offer for customers across film, music and books in a way which complements and connects with our broader Sainsbury’s business."
In short, this is a play to be a direct competitor to Amazon across multiple markets. With that in mind, I have to wonder why Sainsbury's let the social network go.
It's not clear why Sainsbury's decided to sell off that part of Anobii, but I can confirm that the @Anobii account on Twitter is tweeting in Italian, confirming that that deal has gone through. I find that move puzzling, given that a social network would seem to be an excellent advertising opportunity for the ebookstore. Perhaps there weren't enough members in the UK.
Along with Tesco, Sainsbury's is one of the UK ebook retailers that I have been keeping an eye on ever since it spent a pound to buy into Anobii in June 2011. In the past couple years this retailer has shown its continued interest in the UK ebook market by continuing to invest in Anobii, having regular sales throughout 2013, and even running a promotion which gave away copies of ebooks with the sale of Sainsbury's branded cereal.
But in spite of the investment and interest, it's not clear that Sainsbury's has more than a negligible share of the UK ebook market. It's widely believed that Amazon continues to dominate that market, even more so than in the US.