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eBook Gift Cards Coming to Target

Giving an ebook is about to get a little easier. Target has just announced that starting next week they plan to carry a new type of gift card which will let readers  readers can trade in for copies of ebooks from a couple major publishers. 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.

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Ric Day July 13, 2012 um 5:27 pm

Nate, I looked at the idea of selling cards some years ago. At the time, the best comparable was prepaid phone cards. When I talked to retailers, every one of them said the same thing: too much shrinkage. The cards were too easy to steal. The fix was to add an activate at checkout feature and that increased costs (backend database, API). To avoid passing the added cost to the consumer, margins got squeezed, reducing the attractivess of the product to the retailer and/or the phone company, depending on how the squeeze was applied.

It will be interesting to see if any of the various ebooks-as-cards succeed (Enthrill is another player).

Much larger question – how will physical retail change over, say, the next 5 years as consumers grow more habituated to all kinds of online shopping and the deadly combination of high convenience and low(er) retail prices? My local Sears and some other mall anchor stores already look like wasteland boxes sparsely populated by zombie floor staff.

Nate Hoffelder July 13, 2012 um 6:04 pm

That would explain why this never grew beyond a niche product. Thanks!

Karen Myers July 15, 2012 um 4:17 pm

Look at it a different way. If you want to hand out free ebooks at a physical event, what better way to do it? They’re a good idea as a marketing device whether or not they can thrive at a retail store.

the rodent July 13, 2012 um 5:54 pm

Some years back there was a website called something like "what a stupid present" dot com, about how lame it was giving CDs as gifts to teens, in the age of MP3 piracy (like, if they wanted it, they already downloaded from Napster or whatever). I feel the same way about gift cards for specific books: dumb gimmick. I’m all for giving away books, but honestly: give a gift card to an e-bookstore, not a specific title. Sheesh. And make sure the physical medium — that card — is 100% recyclable. 🙂

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