Walmart and Rakuten Kobo: Too Little, Too Late?

When I head out for my local Walmart Supercenter, books aren’t usually on my mind. In fact, I don’t connect Walmart and books at all unless I’m looking for a greeting card. Only then do I see the tiny section of paperbacks nestled at the end of the greeting card aisle. Even then, the only books stocked there are romances and YA novels that had recently been made into movies.

Why, then, would Walmart bother to enter the eBook industry?

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the new partnership between the American superstore and Rakuten, the Japan-based e-commerce giant and owner of the e-reader Kobo. I know I’ve gotten an earful of it the last week.

Image retrieved from Rakuten website

From what I’ve gathered, Walmart made this move to get a leg up on their biggest competitor, Amazon. Amazon all but owns the eBook market. Only Barnes & Noble’s Nook comes close to competing with the Kindle in the United States. Walmart hopes to catch up to Amazon in this division by offering eBooks through Kobo.

Still, if you’re a reader or self-published writer, I don’t recommend jumping ship just yet.

The biggest flaw in this plan is also the most obvious: timing. The eBook industry has been around for years. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have firmly sunk their teeth into that market and, like an English Bulldog with its jaw clamped onto its favorite toy, they won’t let go until they want to. Unless you have an angle which really distinguishes you from the other services, entering this race now is a losing proposition.

According to the Association of American Publishers, eBooks might even be declining in popularity. Due to eye strain and technological fatigue, readers have begun to return to good old print books. Easiness on the eyes might win over convenience yet.

If that’s not enough to convince you not to switch, consider this: the Kobo has nowhere near the hold on Americans that Kindle and Nook do. Kobo accounted for less than 1% of eBook sales last fall, whereas Amazon made up about 75%.

Image retrieved from Rakuten website

Rakuten is betting on its partnership with Walmart to boost Kobo’s American market. At the same time, Walmart has put its money on Kobo giving them decent footing in the eBook industry. On the one hand, this could turn be beneficial for both companies. On the other hand, it could turn out horribly for them as well.

I suppose only time will tell what will become of this partnership. For all we know, Walmart-Kobo (as their new app is called) could be the next big thing for reading. It could also be a slight elevation for the companies, a lateral move, or a financial wreck. If I had to guess, I would bet on a slight elevation for Walmart and Kobo.

Frankly, I think that Amazon Kindle will continue to be king with the Barnes & Noble Nook as its heir. At best, Walmart-Kobo will be the spare. Walmart could give Amazon a run for its money in regards to grocery deliveries, especially since the Rakuten partnership gives them more possibilities in Japan, but unless there’s a miracle, I doubt that Amazon will give up its eBook title any time soon.

For more information on the new partnership, you can check out this article from The New York Times.

What do you think? Does this partnership give Walmart a chance to catch up to Amazon? Or are they joining the party too late? Could Walmart-Kobo be another good outlet for self-published authors, or is it better to stick with the tried-and-true? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011