Walmart’s latest move to stay competitive with Amazon as the two retailers expand aggressively into new markets is an ebook and audiobook store with its Japan partner Rakuten. Rakuten, which has owned Canadian e-reader brand Kobo since 2011, partnered with Walmart back in January to distribute Kobo e-readers in the US with preloaded and co-branded software for buying digital books. Now, the two companies are taking the partnership one step further with the launch of Walmart eBooks.
The store has more than 6 million titles and an Audible-like monthly subscription service for audiobooks. In an attempt to pull customers away from Audible, Walmart’s audiobook subscription costs only $9.99, compared to Audible’s introductory $14.95 price, as noted by TechCrunch. In addition to the launch of the ebook store, Walmart and Kobo co-branded apps are also launching on iOS and Android today. That way, you can access titles without a physical Kobo e-reader, similar to how Amazon distributes Kindle software.
It’s an open question whether any of this will chip away at Amazon’s hold on the ebook market, with Kindle controlling more than 80 percent of all US sales. Although this may be less about breaking into the ebook and e-reader market than it is about Walmart offering its customers — a vast majority of whom shop at its brick-and-mortar big box stores — a comprehensive alternative to Amazon.
The two companies have historically had different customer bases, but that’s beginning to change as Amazon moves offline into groceries, thanks to its Whole Foods acquisition, and ever-faster delivery methods. Walmart, seeing the need to compete in new markets years down the line, has started aggressively partnering with technology companies and building everything from an Amazon Prime and Prime Video competitor to a robust grocery delivery network. With Kobo, Walmart clearly sees an opportunity to market an alternative to Kindle. We’ll have to see if the retailer and its Japanese partner can make any headway against Kindle’s dominance.