Most Walmart stores have modest book sections, but now the company plans to expand that with digital books. Walmart announced that it’s teamed up with Japan’s Rakuten to sell e-books, audiobooks, and Rakuten’s Kobo e-readers later this year.
“We have long been a destination for entertainment including digital content—whether movies through VUDU or the digital game cards we sell in our stores,” Walmart’s statement said. “E-books and audiobooks are a great addition to our assortment. Working with Rakuten Kobo enables us to quickly and efficiently launch a full e-book and audiobook catalog on Walmart.com to provide our customers with additional choices alongside our assortment of physical books.”
Kobo e-readers and compatible e-books are mostly popular outside the US in countries including Canada, the UK, France, Italy, and Australia. Walmart will be Kobo’s “exclusive” US partner, meaning it will be the biggest retailer to sell Kobo e-readers in the country, along with access to its library of over six million e-books.
Customers will be able to shop for e-books and audiobooks on Walmart’s website, and the retailer will sell e-readers in its stores and online. Walmart also plans to sell “e-book cards” in its stores, which seem to be physical cards customers can buy while shopping at a Walmart store that contain a download code for access to an e-book or audiobook after they leave the store.
While digital book shopping will be done on Walmart’s platforms, customers will access purchased titles through Walmart/Kobo branded apps for desktop as well as Android and iOS. Kobo already has apps across these platforms, but it seems the two companies will make new apps for Walmart customers in the US to use. Customers with Kobo e-readers won’t have to worry about downloading new apps since all Kobo titles can be read on its own e-readers.
Partnering with Rakuten for access to Kobo is one of the quickest and easiest ways for Walmart to enter the e-book market. While Rakuten has the chance to grow Kobo’s relatively small US footprint, Walmart has a better chance of challenging Amazon with this partnership than if the retail giant had attempted to enter the digital book space on its own.
Walmart is only the latest company to embrace e-books and audiobooks in a new way: Google launched a new audiobook section of the Play Store earlier this week, and Apple may be revamping its iBooks app to position its iOS device as better e-readers. While Walmart did not provide a timeline for the release of Kobo products in its stores, it did state that e-books and Kobo e-readers will be available on Walmart’s website later this year and audiobooks would follow shortly thereafter.