WHS partners with Kobo to launch e-reader

W H Smith has partnered with Kobo to launch the first wifi touch-screen e-reader in the UK later this month.

The chain bookseller announced the partnership today (13th October) at the same time as its financial results for the year ending 31st August 2011, in which the company revealed it has increased group profit-before-tax by 4% from £89m in 2010 to £93m. It is Kobo's second European deal this week: on Tuesday it announced similar partnership with the French retailer Fnac.

WHS said: “We have continued to develop our presence in the growing e-books market and have today announced a new partnership with Kobo, building on the success of our e-books development to date. From the middle of October, we will launch a range of WiFi e-reading devices, including the first WiFi touch screen e-reader widely available in the UK. All of the devices will have access to over 2.2 million titles."

On the bookseller’s website, it says: “Search and browse e-Books at WHSmith.co.uk. When you have found your eBook click Buy and we'll pass you to Kobo's website to complete your purchase."

Despite increasing overall group profit, overall group sales for the year slumped to £1,273m, a decrease of 5% like-for-like. High street sales were down 5% at £818m and down 6% on a like-for-like basis. Sales in the company’s travel sector grew by 1% to £455m, but were down 3% on a like-for-like basis. However, operating profit in the travel sector increased by 8% to £57m—hailed as a “record profit performance" for the company. The high street sector increased operating profit to £52m, up 2% on the prior year.

In terms of the high street, WHS said: “We continue with our strategy to rebalance the mix of the business towards our core categories whilst reducing our presence in entertainment."

Book sales for WHS were down 4% but gross margin was up year on year. The retailer said that while the books market remained “soft" non-fiction sales improved on last year.

WHS said: “We saw encouraging share performance versus the general retail market as we continue to implement our strategy to build our authority as a popular book specialist, providing our customers with choice, great value and promotions like the successful Richard and Judy Book Club."

The company also revealed it had plans to open 35 more travel units in the UK in 2011/2012 on top of the existing 35 and plans 25 more international shops.

Kate Swann, group chief executive for WHS, said: "We have delivered a good performance across the group, despite a challenging trading environment, with further profit growth from high street and record profit in travel. We have seen another year of strong cash generation from both businesses and this is reflected in a 16% increase in the full year dividend and a further return of cash to shareholders.

“The economic conditions remain challenging, however we have planned accordingly. We are a resilient business with a strong and consistent record of both profit growth and cash generation and have opportunities for growth in both the UK and internationally."