WHS looks to long-term partnership with Kobo

W H Smith has trained 6,000 staff, installed working units into stores and readied television and press advertising following its new "long-term" partnership with Kobo.

The chain bookseller announced last Thursday (13th October) the deal to sell Kobo e-books, wi-fi enabled e-readers (£89.99) and a touch-screen device (£109.99), which was launched to consumers with a television advertising [pictured], poster and leaflet campaign from last Monday (17th October). The e-readers will be sold through 750 stores in total—600 high street and 150 travel—with WHS pocketing a cut of any e-book sold through Kobo's 2.2 million-book store from any customer in the UK or Ireland.

WHS head of non-fiction and digital books, Toby Keir, said: "In the majority of stores there are working units so customers can see and feel the product and learn how to use the devices ahead of making a purchase. We see this as a very important part of the customer offer and believe it will help customers make the right choice. In our larger stores we are also adding dedicated staff during peak trading to talk to customers and demonstrate the key features of the devices."

The WHS store in Victoria Station, London, has also been "wrapped" in Kobo advertising. Stephen Clarke, commercial director of WHS high street, said the company wanted to attract new customers—in particular heavier book buyers—through the Kobo deal, and saw the e-book business as likely to attract incremental sales.

Clarke said: "As the e-book market has developed, it has become clear that two things are important; having a good quality range of e-reading devices and 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 wi-fi and the wi-fi touch-screen model. They have the biggest e-book store in the world with more than 2.2 million books."

Michael Tamblyn, Kobo's executive vice-president for content, sales and merchandising, said the number of WHS stores, its ability to move quickly in the market and aptitude to create a compelling consumer offer drew them to team up with the company.

Tamblyn also believes WHS has the ability to win market share from Amazon through the partnership, and said he thought it was important that UK booksellers entered the market with their own e-readers before Christmas. He said: "I think consumers now want to know where they will be getting their e-books in the future, and it is a question they are asking of their booksellers at this point. The longer any retailer waits, the more difficult it becomes to enter the market . . . generally it is hard for any bookstore chain to start the process of creating their own e-reader from scratch."