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Walmart, one of the biggest US retailers, has struck a deal with Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten. With this deal, Walmart became the official US distributor of Rakuten’s Kobo e-readers.
Kobo e-readers are now available on Walmart.com and in Walmart stores across the United States. Customers can then access roughly six million e-books and audiobooks through the newly developed Walmart-Kobo app on their e-readers or on iOS and Android devices.
Created in 2009 by Canadian bookstore chain Indigo, Kobo started as a cloud e-reading app called Shortcovers, which allowed users to access their e-books anywhere as long as they had an Internet connection. It was renamed Kobo – an anagram for the word ‘book’ – in the same year. Two years later, Rakuten acquired it after a $315 million deal.
In early 2017, Kobo held only a minuscule 0.3% share in US e-book sales. It continues to face stiff competition from Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and Google, with Amazon Kindle leading the pack.
Despite being the target of Walmart’s expansion efforts, the e-reader market has been showing signs of decline. Statistics show that global e-reader shipments peaked at 23.2 million units in 2011 but started dropping in the years that followed, with shipments in 2016 reaching only 7.1 million units.
On the other hand, e-book sales continue to rise, with revenues expected to reach up to $8.7 billion this year – a far cry from its $270 million revenue in 2008. Researchers believe that e-books continue to flourish because people are more likely to read on tablets and smartphones than on e-readers, which have very limited features.