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Walmart Now Kobo’s Retail Partner in the US, Will Sell Kobo eReaders in Store

from the official press kit for the launch, a woman reading on a Kobo Aura

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 customers. 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.

Given that Walmart Canada’s ebook gift cards failed to catch on and that several similar efforts (including Amazon’s) in the US also fizzled, it isn’t clear why Walmart is trying again.

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.

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Carmen Webster Buxton January 25, 2018 um 10:06 pm

What I want to know is, will this mean Walmart will get into the self-publishing market? Or will that be strictly a Kobo thing?

Nate Hoffelder January 26, 2018 um 6:47 am

strictly a Kobo thing

heidi l January 25, 2018 um 10:30 pm

are they selling the ereaders or just the books?

Nate Hoffelder January 26, 2018 um 7:57 am

also the ereaders

Jimo January 25, 2018 um 10:44 pm

This should make a big increase Kobo’s visibility in the USA,by allowing hands on viewing !

BDR January 26, 2018 um 1:48 pm

Never underestimate the ability of Kobo’s Marketing & Sales to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sure, Walmarts are ubiquitous BUT Wally World isn’t exactly tuned to the book-reading audience that Kobo needs to target. UNLESS you already know about Kobo devices you aren’t gonna walk into a Walmart, stumble across the product and say "cool, I’ll take one, please".

Since no one is gonna know that Walmart even *has* these devices shelved away in a dank corner of the electronics isle somewhere, it’s especially important for Kobo marketing to drive customers in to *look* for the damned thing. IF you believe that possible, I’ve a bridge to sell you.

Walmart is probably the *worst* possible retail choice.

Nate Hoffelder January 26, 2018 um 2:21 pm

I don’t think there’s even any jaws of victory here.

No offence to Kobo, but this is no threat to Amazon. No one knows who Kobo is, Walmart doesn’t know about ebooks or care about them, and frankly Kobo hardly any ebooks in the US.

This is a huge story, but it’s still not going anywhere.

Penelope January 26, 2018 um 4:06 pm

Nice tho if those who know and like Kobo readers have a place to purchase them in the U.S.! Better still, is being able to easily return a reader device if lighting or screen is defective. I’ve dealt with Kobo CS on that once, with my first Kobo purchase in 2013 and it was a huge pain!

I suspect there are some folks who’d like to try a Kobo reader, but have wanted a hands on experience. That’s much more easily available if you can buy local and not have to pack and ship an item to return it.

I agree this news is probably no threat to Amazon, but it does give US readers a different option potentially available in a local store. WalMart is practically everywhere, including my small town.

Barry Marks January 26, 2018 um 4:55 pm

Walmart may not be known for readers but they have a marketing department. My guess is there’ll be ads in all the places you see ads and people will begin to know about them. When Amazon first started selling books most people didn’t even have internet access. Things change.

That doesn’t mean I think this is a threat to Amazon but if Walmart and Kobo are smart they’ll turn this into a money maker. It’s not going to happen by itself but it shouldn’t be that hard to do. Look how much it’s already in the news.


Maria (BearMountainBooks) January 26, 2018 um 6:07 pm

I think it’s a win!

D.R. Cootey January 27, 2018 um 6:18 pm

Walmart and Kobo don’t need to topple Amazon’s empire to be successful. There’s the Nook to replace first, which may not be all that hard to do considering how much of an afterthought that side of BN’s business is versus how many Walmart’s there are. Also, Walmart likes things cheap, so you can almost be certain a pared down, inexpensive Kobo eReader will be announced this Spring/Summer during Kobo’s usual product cycle announcements. Or they’ll drop the price on their lowest model. Speculation, yes, but not really a stretch to imagine.

One thing that people aren’t covering is the reciprocal deal Walmart gets helping Rakuten’s grocery business in Japan. It’s a big inroad there. Both companies are scratching each other is backs across the pond. With the mention of eBook cards, I don’t expect Walmart to be tucking their Kobo displays over by the ? clearance bin.

Celeste January 29, 2018 um 5:41 pm

I will always remember the head of Kobo giving that press conference, talking about how they were going to ban porn, while standing in front of a bookstore window that was stacked high with 'Fifty Shades of Gray' promotional materials.

And then they canceled ALL ebooks from indies and wouldn’t let anyone back in for months. My non-erotic SciFi (under a different pen name) was just starting to take off when they killed it. Cost me thousands.

Never went back.

Nate Hoffelder January 29, 2018 um 6:46 pm

And they’re not just selling 50 Shades, but also a double dozen other trad-pub porn.

what hypocrites

Celeste January 30, 2018 um 2:17 am

Yup! Only tradpub is allowed to do porn!
I pulled a fast one on Amazon once, though. After they banned a book, I published it onto kindle via createspace! They don’t review books that come from publishers, so it wasn’t until I lowered the price that they finally caught it, 2 years later.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) February 5, 2018 um 10:10 am

They did not cancel all books from indies. My books were up the entire time and so were most other books from many, many authors. Yes, they did take some down that had no porn, including some children’s books (although the one case I know of, that author did also write erotica, which is why they are all taken down).

Kobo had to take action because one of their retailers in the UK was yanking and blocking kobo ebooks over books that were incorrectly categorized–ie categorized as mysteries when they contained erotic material. Some of the fault is with the indie authors–they had purposely NOT categorized their books as erotica and they ended up in front of people who complained. Does this mean Kobo handled the situation perfectly? No. But it’s important to point out that some authors helped create this problem by not properly categorizing their books.

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Heywood Jabuzov February 5, 2018 um 9:57 am

Kobo would have been much better served by investing in their Customer Service instead. I’m desperate to get away from Kindle and the Amazon Supermegaevilcorp, but one try at fixing a minor problem (OS update wouldn’t download) through Kobo’s customer service was enough. It was seriously the most horrific customer service experience I’ve had in the last ten years. Impossible to contact, incompetent, and more worried about getting rid of you than fixing the problem.

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