Following my story yesterday about the Canadian ebook store Shortcovers and its change of name to Kobo, it turns out there was another reason for the change. Kobo now has several new investors and one of them, the REDgroup will be bringing this fine service to Australia and New Zealand by May 2010.

The REDgroup owns Whitcoulls, Angus and Roberston and Borders in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore giving it a similar dominant position in this part of the world that Shortcovers’ owner Indigo Books has in the Canadian market. The service will offer 200,000 paid ebooks (30,000 expected in the downunder version) plus more than a million free ebooks.

Following the spin-off and new investment, Indigo’s share of the venture will be 58%. Its new partners are REDgroup, Borders Inc and Hong Kong conglomerate Cheung Kong whose subsidiaries include Hutchison Whampoa. Among its other areas, Hutchison is a major telecommunications provider.

Shortcovers/Kobo is an impressive platform, now complemented by an impressive line-up of partners. One of them, Borders, has just announced that it plans to develop its own ebook reader for the service though the service will maintain its position as a device-agnostic platform supporting many mobile devices, a definite strength.

The plan to launch an ebook store (or stores) in Australia and New Zealand will certainly add some sizzle to the REDgroup as it toys with a possible public listing and exit for its private equity owner, Pacific Equity Partners.

It’s very good news for the nascent digital publishing market downuder as the possibility of high profile retail channels opens up for local digital content. Given the Kindle’s arrival in Australia, and its (we presume) imminent arrival in New Zealand, consumers will be offered some enticing options.

In the press release, REDgroup retail group managing director David Fenlon said:

“… we’ll soon be able to offer our customers a broad selection of eBooks and other content for download via our websites. In particular, I’m pleased that we’ll be in a position to make local content available by working with Australian and New Zealand publishers and authors to enhance the Kobo range … Kobo’s content will be accessible from eReaders, iPhones, Blackberrys, Palm Pres, Androids and PCs, making the products very versatile.

It’s timely for another reason. It’s looking increasingly likely that CES 2010 (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas on January 7-10 will see a number of launches that will start to see more digital reading-friendly gadgets arriving to tempt consumers.

Welcome to 2010, another Year of the Ebook.

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