New Zealand’s largest book chain Whitcoulls today launched the country’s first commercial ebook store. It’s the fruit of an investment by Whitcoulls’ parent, the Red Group, which late last year took a stake in Canadian ebook operation Kobo Books.
Whitcoulls’ ebook store carries the ‘Whitcoulls’ brand but is powered by Kobo and integrated into Whitcoulls’ existing online bookstore. It follows the launch last week of a similar service by Red Group’s Australian chain Angus and Robertson.
Whitcoulls says it has two million ebooks at launch though most of these are free classics. The Kobo connection, though, brings a very credible offering of a couple of hundred thousand commercial ebooks including, finally, some New Zealand titles. The New Zealand list is still pretty thin (I’ve got my eye on Mr Pip, $19.95 in ebook format compared to $34.95 for the New Zealand paperback edition), but Whitcoulls is committed to working with local publishers to get the New Zealand list boosted as fast as possible.
Prices were surprisingly good with a big selection of ebook titles between about $12 and $20.
Remember when you’re making international comparisons that it’s not just the exchange rate to factor in — Whitcoulls, as a New Zealand-domiciled retailer, has to charge the 12.5% (shortly 15%) Goods and Services Tax, an impost that Amazon and other international sites avoid.
Along with the ebook store, Whitcoulls has also launched the Kobo dedicated ebook reader, giving Kiwis their first retail experience of an e-Ink ebook reader. You don’t actually need this to read the Kobo ebooks though it will be nice to have: one of Whitcoulls’/Kobo’s distinguishing features is its support of a wide range of reading devices from PCs and Macs to iPhones, iPads, Blackberries and Android smartphones. The Kobo eReader will be stocked in about 30 of Whitcoulls’ stores and sells for NZ$295 including GST.