In an market dominated by Amazon's Kindle, e-reader manufacturer Kobo—once aligned with Borders, RIP—has thrown in its lot with independent bookstores by way of a recent partnership with the nearly 2,000 bookstores-strong American Booksellers Association (ABA). Today Powell's announced that they'll be selling Kobo e-readers in-store: the Kobo Glo for $130, and the Kobo Mini for $90. According to this morning's press release, Kobo's catalog offers "nearly three million eBook titles" (though their math seems a little fuzzy—I think they're counting newspapers and magazines in that number) and the readers support mobi, epub, and pdf. It's unclear how (or if) one will purchase Kobo books directly through Powell's—there aren't any e-book links on powells.com, though the ABA says its "members will also be able to offer ebooks directly to their customers online" and "will share in the revenue on every sale." (
I've got an email to ask about this; in the meantime, here's a comment thread wondering the same thing.)
UPDATE, Fri 4:29 pm: Powell's spokesperson Kim Sutton says: "Our partnership with Kobo is arranged similar to all of our former eBook distribution agreements where we receive a percentage of eBook sales. At this time, our customers must link to Kobo from the Powells.com site in order to purchase eBooks. That link can be found at the top of this page: http://www.powells.com/ebooks."
Despite the indie bookstore angle, Kobo isn't exactly your friendly neighborhood e-reader—the Toronto-based company was purchased in January by Japanese e-commerce heavyweight Rakuten, which is also heavily invested in Pinterest . From a Techcrunch article earlier this year:
Rakuten has holdings that extend well beyond Japan, and include properties like Buy.com in the U.S., Kobo e-reader and e-books, Priceminister in France—in all, operations based in 10 countries and extending to 17 countries in total. [CEO Hiroshi] Mikitani says that he is hopeful that the kinds of groundwork it wants to lay in Japan will also be extended to the rest of its footprint.
For example, Mikitani points out that Kobo already has a “great partnership” with Facebook to encourage people to post excerpts and read more using Kobo, which it would like to extend to Pinterest, too: “Facebook is why Kobo is growing so fast right now,” he says. “We will see more of Kobo in Pinterest, too, I think.”
So with a Kobo, rather than signing up with Amazon, you're basically signing up with the Japanese Amazon—and yep, you'll still have to deal with DRM, though there are ways around that. Still, if you're wanting both an e-reader and a way to support Powell's, this looks like your way to do it. Wired recently reviewed the Glo, calling it "very good, but not quite great."
If anyone has any further insight into what this means for Powell's, please chime in in the comments.