And now Amazon is giving it a try.
There's been no formal announcement from Amazon, but late last month the Seattle-area drug store chain Bartell Drugs revealed that it is carrying Kindle gift cards in its stores.
Amazon has confirmed the news on a help page on the Amazon website, writing "Kindle Cards are Amazon.com Gift Cards that depict popular Kindle books and Kindle Unlimited subscriptions in the form of a physical card, which can be gifted to friends or family members or applied to your own account. Included on each Kindle Card is a description of the Kindle book or Kindle Unlimited subscription, and instructions for redeeming the book or subscription to the desired account once the card has been activated at the store register."
Unlike regular gift cards, Kindle Cards are tied to specific titles, but Amazon isn't going to hold you to the sale. If someone gives you a card for a book you don't want, Amazon will let you trade it in for a regular Amazon.com credit. Similarly, if the price of the ebook drops below the price listed on the card, Amazon will give you a credit for the difference (less applicable taxes, of course).
You can find more information on Amazon.
Update: Amazon told me that the pilot is running in 61 Bartell Drug stores, and includes 20 Kindle titles and 4 Kindle Unlimited card designs. Bartell informed me that the pilot started in October 2015, and that Amazon selected the twenty titles in the pilot based on their best-selling titles for gifting.
Update: Working from my tip, Geekwire found the display in a store:
The top row of the kiosk features cards for three- and six-month Kindle Unlimited memberships, for $29.99 and $49.99 each. Below those are cards featuring the covers of 20 individual ebooks, best-sellers across both fiction and nonfiction, ranging from “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” to Dan Brown’s “Inferno” and “The Martian” by Andy Weir.
On the back of each ebook card is a quote from an Amazon customer review and a summary of the book, along with an area for writing a message to the recipient and instructions for redeeming the book by scratching off the claim code and going to a dedicated Amazon url to enter it.
Purchasing the card at the Bartell Drugs register automatically activates it for use, as with a standard gift card.
Livrada, for example, launched a similar pilot in Target stores in 2012. That effort included only a half-dozen titles, and went nowhere.
But up in Canada, Enthrill is having more luck. This Calgary-based startup launched a similar product in Canadian Safeway stores in 2012, and over the past three years they have expanded ebook gift cards into over 3000 locations in Canada, including Sears, Toys R Us, Safeway, Shoppers Drug Mart, Giant Tiger, Home Outfitters, Home Hardware and Longos.
Enthrill is also the vendor which supplies the Walmart-brand ebook gift cards in Canada and runs Walmart's ebookstore. That program launched in November 2014.
I have no info on when Enthrill or Walmart plan to expand their programs into the US, but now that Amazon is interested I can guarantee that publishers and retailers will be taking notice.