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Walmart’s eBookstore is Launching Today

Walmart is in the process of setting up new ebook sections in the book departments of its stores, Kobo has let slip a promo video for "Walmart eBooks", and multiple references have been found in Walmart’s help pages.

While there is no sign of the Walmart eBook apps, I did report a few weeks ago in an exclusive scoop that this would launch on the 21st, and here it is.

Walmart is going to be selling ebooks both on its site and in stores. The ebookstore will be located at when it goes live, and it will be managed by Kobo and supported via a subdomain on Kobo’s website.

Walmart will sell just one Kobo model in stores at launch, the $99 Kobo Aura. (While the ebook display has clamps for two devices, the second one is sized for a tablet and has a label that mentions the ebook app, not a Kobo device.)

I know there’s a report that Walmart will sell 3 models, but there is just the one card and one price tag for the one model. The Kobo Aura will not be on the display itself; instead, customers will take a hang card from the display, use it to buy the Aura, and then collect the ereader afterwards.

Customers will use a similar process for buying ebooks in a Walmart store.

The display has hooks for a little over 60 gift cards. They will be used to show off a selection of ebook and/or audiobook title cards. The price tags have already been applied, and range from $2.99 to $26.99.

On the other half of the display there are 18 more hooks which will be used for cash value gift cards and cards for audiobook subscriptions.  The gift cards come in increments of $10, $25 and $50, while the audiobook subscriptions come in increments of $30, $60 and $120, for three month, six month and one year subscriptions.

Customers will be able to take the cards up to the cashier to buy/activate them, and then either scan a code on the back of the card to add the ebook to their Walmart eBook app, or type a code into their account online to add the ebook to their account.

Walmart used a similar ebook gift car system for its ebookstore in Canada, but shut that down in 2016. I was told by Walmart’s tech partner that the program ended after the market dried up. That partner later sold off its tech to a 3rd party. Also, Target partnered with Livrada to sell ebook gift cards in stores in 2012, and Amazon ran a similar pilot in drug stores in 2016. Both programs were shut down for unknown reasons.

To put it simply, Walmart is now reviving a sales model that has failed three times in the past 6 years. Do you think they’re going to get it right this time, or are they repeating the same mistake as before?

images via MobileRead member rcentros

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Richard Hershberger August 21, 2018 um 10:06 am

I think I am confused. This looks to me like they have a display of several dozen titles, hoping that the customer wants one of those titles rather than any of the countless other titles they could get at Amazon. Do I have that right?

rcentros August 21, 2018 um 11:13 am

This display’s purpose (I think) is to make you aware of Walmart eBooks online. I think the few books they display are (more or less) just "examples" (although, I’m sure they hope there will be some spur of the moment purchases). How would they be able display six million books in the store? Customers can buy gift cards redeemable for any book online (which is how most people would probably do it when buying in store).

Steve H. August 21, 2018 um 10:13 am

Mistake number one …not showing their best units. Kobo should insist on this. Unbelievable. What a missed opportunity for Kobo to expose American customers to a hands on experience.

Nate Hoffelder August 21, 2018 um 10:18 am

they should have at least gone with the Clara, yes.

Jimo August 21, 2018 um 3:58 pm

I want to buy one of them but what hold one my hand first!

DaveMich August 21, 2018 um 12:29 pm

Carrying a hang card to checkout isn’t much of a hands-on experience. When my local staples still sold kindles they at least had demo models tethered to a display. You could touch them, read them and make up your mind about them. This is a serious fail.

DaveMich August 21, 2018 um 11:26 am

They are loading at a dock whose passengers have long ago sailed on other ships.

I can see this working for Amazon haters who nonetheless will patronize Walmart, although I question the amount of overlap there. The Walmart branding has a reassuring not-amazon feel to it, so it might be gifted to those sorts. I could also see them gifted to older tech-shy readers who would feel comfortable with that Walmart branding. If Wally sells it, it can’t be that tech-threatening. How big that market is remains to be seen.

Disgusting Dude August 21, 2018 um 4:53 pm

Seven years ago it would’ve been market changing.
Five years ago it would’ve been a significant challenge.
Three years ago it would still have made a ripple.
But today?

KU is out there.
Until somebody offers a viable answer to that Amazon will own the loyalty of the most voracious of readers. (And a majority of Indie publishers.)

gbm August 21, 2018 um 1:15 pm

Have linked my walmart and kobo accounts. but that is all so far.

Kevin Franco August 21, 2018 um 2:36 pm

Very interesting… looks like an ambitious jump into the space. What’s impressive is that the display says "all devices", that’s great news for Kindle reader owners that don’t have to buy from Amazon any longer and may be the key to making this fly in the US. I am curious to see how the pricing models and value propositions of Walmart and Kobo intersect with customer expectations. I’ve always thought this was good market segment and wish them success in growing this category.

Disgusting Dude August 21, 2018 um 4:19 pm

Wishful thinking.
Lots of companies like to pretend their competitors don’t exist so "all devices" most likely means "every device we sell/support", as in phones, tablets, and Kobo’s ereader, not "everything under the sun".

There might be some DRM-free epub titles but good money says you won’t find AZWs in there.

It’s 2018 out there:you’re more likely to find epub fans buying ebooks at Amazon than Kindle owners shopping at Kobo. A few might exist but nowhere near enough Walmart/Kobo supporting dual epub and Mobi formats.

Nate Hoffelder August 21, 2018 um 4:29 pm

Kevin has been around long enough that he would know that. I think he was being sarcastic.

KEVIN FRANCO August 22, 2018 um 11:49 am

When Enthrill launched the Walmart ebook store and instore gift card program in 2014 it was for all devices, yes, all devices under the sun… so, it is possible. Looking at the Kobo display, it states "all devices" so, I’m hopeful they are offering this and not just 'our devices + an app – kindle readers' or their customer service team will be dealing with many angry Walmart customers with no recourse (gift cards are nonreturnable/nonrefundable). Who knows, maybe they’re working with the company that purchased Enthrill’s epub to mobi conversion technology to deliver to kindle. I think Kobo has the resources to grow this program beyond North America where this type of physical purchase of a digital product could be more widely embraced outside of just the gifting niche. Will be interesting to watch to grow and evolve.

Disgusting Dude August 22, 2018 um 12:08 pm

Lots of technology exists that has no real world value.
As Nate said, it has already failed three times.

The only change since the last failure is that the catalog of Amazon exclusives has gotten bigger and more litfic friendly.

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2018 um 1:22 pm

I don’t think they do support all devices, but I can see how they might.

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2018 um 3:00 pm

I don’t think they support the Kindle, though.

HEIDI L STEINDEL August 21, 2018 um 2:54 pm

I drove or called every walmart in my city. Not in stock. As a matter of fact no one at the Walmart’s knew what a KOBO was except for one person and he was still clueless calling it "the book thingy" maybe by the nd of the week

Pat August 21, 2018 um 2:57 pm

I have been using and loving ereaders going back to the Rocket ebook and currently use multiple platforms but I think this is going to be a disaster. I just don’t see a large enough target audience to make this a winner. It’s not a knock on their shoppers but who thinks of Walmart as a book store?

gbm August 21, 2018 um 3:41 pm

When the nearness book store is a three hour round trip, and Walmart is just around the corner.

Disgusting Dude August 22, 2018 um 6:23 pm

More recent news say only 1000 of the 5000+ Walmart stores will carry the Aura and 3500 of the stores will carry the gift cards.
Feel lucky?

Jeff August 21, 2018 um 7:47 pm

I’m still wishing Google would release a ePaper style reader for Google Ebooks.

Nate Hoffelder August 21, 2018 um 9:29 pm

They did – it was the iRiver Story. It was a pretty meh ereader

Jeff August 21, 2018 um 10:44 pm

Yeah. I was talking about a modern one that wasn’t a step behind Amazon’s best.

Amy August 21, 2018 um 8:23 pm

I love it! Walmart is the only store out there with the guns to challenge the Zon!

Will Entrekin August 22, 2018 um 11:02 am

I wonder about that. As Nate and others have mentioned, an in-person experience trying to drive digital retail purchases seems inelegant at best and ineffective at worst. I also wonder about the demographics — do Walmart customers read a lot? And if so, in what genres? Do those genres do well digitally?

If anyone is going to challenge Amazon, I think Apple’s going to have a better shot when the next iOS update comes out of beta and includes the new Apple Books. I’m hoping that gets some discussion time in the next few weeks when Cook et al. intro the new hardware. It might not be e-ink, but the larger iPhone X model rumored to be coming could be a great reading device.

Suzanne August 22, 2018 um 7:53 am

Wouldn’t it be easier to just browse on, purchase a book and have it downloaded to your reader right away instead of getting in your car, going to Walmart, picking up a card, finding an employee who is at the register, purchasing the card, driving home then having to log in and scan or enter the code? This does not make any sense to me. I can see Walmart selling the devices and gift cards but I just don’t understand the purpose of the co-branded app. Wouldn’t it be easier for Kobo to offer Walmart a percentage of all sales for the ability to have their devices in the store?

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2018 um 8:04 am

Yes – which is why most previous efforts failed, IMO.

DaveMich August 22, 2018 um 11:04 am

IMO, the cards are meant to be purchased as gifts, so that you have something physical to wrap and present. Otherwise the market would be for people who can manage to download a book off the internet, but not use an internet-based store, quite a small market segment.

Jeff August 22, 2018 um 12:21 pm

Easier, but not better for gift giving.

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2018 um 8:22 am

Do you know what surprised me about this? There’s no barcode scanner tied to Kobo’s system.

I think it would have been a good idea to have a bar code scanner with screen so people could grab books from the book aisle and check to see if it was available on Kobo.

I’d want that.

Steve H. August 22, 2018 um 9:41 am

Wal-Mart and Kobo websites, in my opinion, are light years behind Amazon in discoverability of new titles to read. It’s so easy to go down rabbit holes of similar books on Amazon…hard to understand how Kobo, along with Wal-Mart has not replicated this. I checked out their websites today and was underwhelmed. Ecosystems matter.

John S August 22, 2018 um 2:04 pm

Kobo made a great palm of your hand mini reader. I loved it, they stopped supporting it. No mire Kobo for me! Sony Pt1 reader loved it they stopped supporting it. Fool me once forget it. All 4 Kindle readers and Fire tablet still supported. I dont Buy books I use Overdrive and get books from my tax supported library. Why pay twice!

DaveMich August 22, 2018 um 5:40 pm

What’s not clear here is how the walmart & kobo apps interact. One assumes you can buy a walmart ebook and read it on a kobo reader, so those pieces tie together. One would then assume you can read it on the kobo app. What is the walmart app for? Can you use either app? Can you read a non-walmart kobo book with the walmart app? Can you read a walmart book with the kobo app? Inquiring minds want to know…

Nate Hoffelder August 22, 2018 um 6:19 pm

The Walmart app is just a rebranded Kobo app – Borders used to have one.

I am looking at the apps now:

Not only is Kobo mentioned as the developer, the two listings even use almost identical image galleries.

Hannah Steenbock August 24, 2018 um 5:23 am

So… has anyone found their books in the catalogue yet?

Blythe August 28, 2018 um 7:04 pm

Hannah, yes, my ebooks are up on with the extermely disconcerting fact that after the notation: ISBN follows a number that is not an ISBN. Authors, check out your books and insist that they be properly identified. Walmart corporate: 1-479-273-4000. If this is Walmart’s numbering system, they must not refer to it as an ISBN, which is more relevant to your book’s identity than its title.

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