Back during the hot years of the ebook market Walmart sold first Sony, and later Kobo and Kindle ereaders in store, but that went away as the ereader market shrank.
Thanks to a new partnership between Rakuten and Kobo, that is about to change. On Thursday Walmart and Rakuten announced a strategic partnership that makes Walmart Kobo's official partner here in the US:
As part of this alliance, Walmart will become Rakuten Kobo’s exclusive mass retail partner for the Kobo brand in the U.S., offering Kobo’s nearly six million titles from thousands of publishers and hundreds of thousands of authors to Walmart.com customers. Walmart.com will offer eBooks and audiobooks for sale later this year. Walmart will also sell digital book cards in stores, enabling more than 4,000 stores to carry a broader selection of books for customers.
All eBook content will be accessible through a Walmart/Kobo co-branded app available on all iOS and Android devices, a desktop app and Kobo e-Readers, which will also be sold at Walmart later this year.
Walmart is stepping into a role empty since Border went bankrupt in 2011. While Kobo has previously had US retail partners, including Indiebound and Family Christian Stores, they did not get the privilege of co-branded Kobo apps (just the financial benefit of a cut of ebook sales in exchange for selling Kobo hardware).
For what it is worth, Walmart gets the ebook app under its own brand. Given Kobo's negligible share of the US market, that won't be worth a lot of money, but it is at least an egoboost.
BTW, according to the press release, "Walmart will also sell digital book cards in stores". I checked with Kobo but they aren't sharing any details on that just yet.
Nor do we know who is providing the cards or how they will work. All I was told was that they will be cards you can "redeem for a specific book".
We'll find out more as the launch day approaches.