Kobo and WHS deal aimed at opening up British e-book market

E-book retailer Kobo said it was hoping its partnership with British retailer W H Smith would unlock the e-book reading market for the 90% of British consumers yet to use a device. Michael Tamblyn, executive vice-president for content, sales and merchandising, told The Bookseller it has been in discussions with WHS for several months about bringing Kobo devices, including its Touch wi-fi e-reader, to WHS' portfolio of high street and travel stores.

Tamblyn said: "British customers haven't really had the choice about digital reading experiences. [What we have done is] partnered with a retailer that is known and loved and certainly- one of the most trusted names in the high street, and combining that with our digital reading experience that's on a par with any other."

The touch device was available from W H Smith's website from yesterday, priced £109.99. Tamblyn said he was excited about selling the device ahead of the Christmas season and singled out WHS' travel stores in airports and railway stations as a key area that will drive sales. He said: "Wi-fi and touch provides that perfect intersection to keep the price low and it will be fantastic for someone picking up the device for the first time. Around 90% of British consumers have probably never picked up a e-reader so that's why the instore WHS offer will be so compelling."

Managing and commercial director of WH Smith High Street Stephen Clarke said that e-books and the e-reader offered an incremental opportunity for the bookseller to complement its businesses. By linking up with Kobo, the retailer hopes to target a new customer base, in particular heavy book buyers.

Clarke said: "As the e-book market has developed, it has become clear that two things are important, one having a good quality range of e-reading devices and two having a quality book store. We decided to use Kobo because they have spent a lot of time developing a very good range with the wifi and the wifi touch screen model. They have the biggest e-book store in the world with over 2.2m books."

Clarke added the partnership with Kobo was "long term". When customers go online to buy e-books from the WH Smith website, they are then directed though to Kobo's website to purchase them. However, Clarke said he was not concerned about this encouraging customers to go directly through the Kobo site instead. "For me, it doesn't matter if they buy WH Smith or Kobo, we have a share of the profits from the e-books sold, it is a good long term partnership," Clarke said. "We think they are a fantastic company."

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