Walmart partners with Rakuten to open its first e-commerce store in Japan

Walmart is continuing its strategy of revamping its businesses in Asia after the U.S. retail giant opened its first e-commerce store in Japan, where it is working with local retail giant Rakuten. The companies first announced a collaboration in January when they agreed to team up on the launch of an online grocery service in Japan […]

Walmart is continuing its strategy of revamping its businesses in Asia after the U.S. retail giant opened its first e-commerce store in Japan, where it is working with local retail giant Rakuten.

The companies first announced a collaboration in January when they agreed to team up on the launch of an online grocery service in Japan and the sale of e-readers, audiobooks and e-books from Rakuten-owned Kobo in the U.S. That e-grocery service — Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper — rolled out in October, and now the duo have launched the Walmart Rakuten Ichiba Store to help Walmart grab a slice of Japan’s e-commerce market, which is estimated to be worth 16.5 trillion yen ($148 billion) per year.

The store, which sits on Rakuten Ichiba — Japan’s largest e-commerce store — will cover 1,200 “U.S. branded” products that include clothing, outdoor items and kids toys. Walmart will fulfill orders in the U.S. and they will be sent by air to Japan where Rakuten will use its e-commerce smarts to deliver them. There’s no word on how long the process will take, but it will include shipping cost, duties and taxes in the final price.

The move is an interesting one for Walmart, which has struggled in Japan for some time.

Earlier this year, the company was forced to deny rumors that it was in the process of offloading its Seiyu GK unit, a business it acquired in full in 2007 which operates its Japan-based supermarkets. A sale may not be happening (yet) but Walmart has shuttered some 100 Seiyu stores, according to CNBC, which shows that it isn’t performing as expected in the country.

Partnering with Rakuten, the $10 billion e-commerce giant that also covers financial services, travel, mobile and more, is a smart way to take a bite out of Japan’s online market with risk or exposure. Though it does have its limits. Amazon, Walmart’s big domestic rival, is taking on Rakuten directly, by contrast, and seeing some success albeit at a high cost of investment.

The partnership approach isn’t new for Walmart in Asia.

The partner of choice in China is JD.com, second to Alibaba, which acquired Walmart’s floundering Yihaodian marketplace in 2016. As part of that deal, Walmart became a retailer inside Yihaodian thus leveraging JD’s platform and logistics know-how to generate sales in China.

That relationship was deepened this year when Walmart co-led a $500 million in a grocery delivery service that’s part-owned by JD– yep right, another case of online grocery in tandem with e-commerce.

Elsewhere, Walmart decided to enter India this year when it scooped up local Amazon rival Flipkart for $16 billion, a record deal for the U.S. firm.

Hey look, it’s a new Barnes & Noble Nook in 2018

It’s true! It’s 2018, and Barnes & Noble just announced another Nook! You can preorder it today! All of these things are somehow simultaneously true. The Nook line has basically been a non-starter since 2016, back when the once ubiquitous bookseller offered up a dirt-cheap $50 model. Even back then it felt like a strange anachronism. […]

It’s true! It’s 2018, and Barnes & Noble just announced another Nook! You can preorder it today! All of these things are somehow simultaneously true. The Nook line has basically been a non-starter since 2016, back when the once ubiquitous bookseller offered up a dirt-cheap $50 model. Even back then it felt like a strange anachronism.

The pricing on the new model is more in line with what you’d expect from a budget tablet, from, say Amazon. The Nook 10.1 runs $130. Aside from the titular screen size (at a middling 224 ppi), there’s really not much to talk about with what will almost certainly be a run of the mill budget Android tablet with 32GB of storage, two cameras and a headphone jack — which admittedly does qualify as a feature in 2018. Barnes & Noble is calling it a “game changer,” because that’s what people do in press releases.

“The new Nook 10.1 provides a complete reading and entertainment experience on our biggest display yet,” Chief Digital Officer Bill Wood says in the release. “The soft-touch feel and lightweight design make it a perfect holiday gift for readers who want to enjoy their favorite books for hours, while also being able to browse, watch shows, listen to music, or send emails all from one device. The NOOK 10.1 is truly a game changer for the Nook lineup.”

Games will be changed when the device hits what’s left of Barnes & Noble’s stores on November 14.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is thinner and waterproof

The Voyage may be dead, but the Kindle line still has some life left in it. This time last year, Amazon upgraded the high-end Oasis model, and now the mid-range Paperwhite is getting a little love.The workhorse of the company’s devoted e-reader line just got a handful of upgrades that will give users a more […]

The Voyage may be dead, but the Kindle line still has some life left in it. This time last year, Amazon upgraded the high-end Oasis model, and now the mid-range Paperwhite is getting a little love.The workhorse of the company’s devoted e-reader line just got a handful of upgrades that will give users a more premium experience, while keeping the device’s starting price at $130.

Waterproofing is the most exciting among the upgrades here. Remember that time four years ago when we ran a story with the headline, “This Waterproof Kindle Paperwhite Is Humanity’s Greatest Achievement?” Well, this is that potential fulfilled — now directly from Amazon. The reader sports an IPX8 rating, meaning it can be dunked in two meters of water for up to an hour.

That bit comes, in part, courtesy of another key upgrade. Like the Oasis before it, the reader sports a flush front, rather than the raised bezels found on older, cheaper models. The move gives the model an overall more premium feel and should help keep water from invading its circuits. It also goes a ways toward making this the thinnest and lightest Paperwhite, as well.

Another key change is the bump from four LEDs to five. Seems like a small thing, but it goes a ways toward keeping the front lighting more uniform across the board, versus the more patchy consistency found in earlier models.

Performance should be roughly the same on this model, though storage has been doubled to 8GB. There’s a 32GB model as well, for those who really aren’t into cloud storage. That move comes largely because the model is also getting Bluetooth, so users can listen to audio books through Audible using the device. The Whispersync feature makes sure users are up to date with both the text and audio versions.

There are a couple of tweaks to the software, including an updated home page with more customized recommendations, along with the ability to save different setting profiles.

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Pre-orders start today, and the new Paperwhite will begin shipping November 9. That $130 version includes Special Offers (ads), which Amazon says most customers are still opting into. Prices go up from there.

Kobo’s Forma e-reader takes on Kindle Oasis with an asymmetric design and premium price

Kobo’s latest e-reader is a complete about-face from its anonymous, cheap, and highly practical Clara HD; the Forma is big, expensive, and features a bold — not to say original — design. It’s clearly meant to take on the Kindle Oasis and e-reader fans for whom price is no object.

Kobo’s latest e-reader is a complete about-face from its anonymous, cheap, and highly practical Clara HD; the Forma is big, expensive, and features a bold — not to say original — design. It’s clearly meant to take on the Kindle Oasis and e-reader fans for whom price is no object.

The $280 Forma joins a number of other e-readers in using a one-handed design, something which is, we might as admit up front, isn’t for everyone. That said, I’ve found that my reading style on these devices has been able to adapt from one form factor to another — it’s not like they made it head-mountable or something. You still hold it like you would any other small device.

It uses an 8-inch E-Ink Carta display with 300 pixels per inch, which is more than enough for beautiful type. The frontlight — essentially a layer above the display that lights up and bounces light off it to illuminate the page — is a Kobo specialty, adjustable from very cold to very warm in cast and everywhere in between.

The Clara HD, Kobo’s best entry-level device, left, and the Forma. (The color cast of the screens is adjustable.)

The screen will be very similar to that of the Aura One, Kobo’s previous high-end reader, but the Forma’s asymmetric design gives it slightly closer to square dimensions.

Where it differs from the Kindle Oasis is in size and a couple important particulars of design. The Forma is slightly larger, by about 20 millimeters (3/4″ or so) in height and width, and is ever so slightly but not noticeable thicker. (I didn’t have one to compare on hand, unfortunately.)

It’s also worth saying that like all Kobo devices, there are no forced advertisements on this one and you can load your own books as easy as that. To me Kindles aren’t even an option any more because of the “special offers” and limited file support.

Chin or ear?

The shape is similar, as anyone can see, but the Kobo team decided to go against having a flush front side and instead give the device a “chin,” as we used to call it on HTC phones, though being on the side it would perhaps more accurately be termed an “ear.” The screen, of course, is flat, but the grip on the side rises up from it at a 15 degree angle or so.

Is this better or worse than having a flush front? Aesthetically I prefer the flush screen but practically speaking it is better to have a flat back so it lies flat when you put it down or prop it against something. That the Oasis sits at a tilt when you set it down on a table is something that bothers me. (I’m very sensitive, as you can tell.)

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It’s still very light, only 30 grams more than the Clara, the same amount less than the Aura One, and nearly equal to the Oasis. Despite being larger than any of those, it’s no less portable. That said, the Clara will fit in my back pocket, and this one most definitely will not.

The device is fully waterproof, like the Oasis, although liquid on the screen can disrupt touch functionality (this is just a physics thing). Nothing to worry about, just wipe it off. The USB port is just wide open, but obviously it’s been sealed off inside. Don’t try charging it underwater.

I am worried about the material the grip is made of: a satin-finish plastic that’s very nice to the touch but tends to attract fingerprints and oils. Look, everyone has oils. But the grip of the Forma won’t let you forget it.

Although the power button is mushy and difficult to tell if you’ve pressed it right, the page-turn buttons are pleasantly clicky, and despite their appearance of being lever-like, they can easily be pressed anywhere along their length. Which goes forward and which backward switches automatically if you flip the reader over to use the other hand.

This flipping process happens more or less instantaneously, with a rare exceptions in my brief testing. Neither side feels more “correct,” for instance because of the weight distribution or anything.

The only one that doesn’t feel correct is the landscape mode. I’m not sure why someone would want to read this way, though I’m sure a few will like it. It just seems like a missed opportunity. Why can’t I have two pages displayed side by side, like a little pocket paperback? I’d love that! I’ve already asked Kobo about this and I assume that because I have done so, they will add it. As it is most books simply feel strange in this mode.

Familiar software, unfamiliar price

Text handling seems unchanged from Kobo’s other devices, which means it’s just fine — the typefaces are good and there are lots of options to adjust it to your taste book by book.

Kobo’s much-appreciated drag-and-drop book adding and support for over a dozen formats (epub, cbr, mobi, etc) is here as well with no changes. Pocket integration is solid and extremely useful.

The Forma (like Kobo’s other readers) does have Overdrive support, meaning that with a library card and account there you can easily request and read books from your local branch’s virtual stock. This is an underutilized service in general (by me as well) and I need to take advantage of it more.

So far, so good. But the real question is whether this thing is worth the $280 they’re charging for it — $30 more than the Kindle Oasis and even an even bigger jump over the Aura One. In my honest opinion, for most people, the answer is no. For the dollar you get a lot more from the Clara HD, which also has the advantage of being compact and pocketable.

But it must be said that the Forma is clearly a niche device aimed at people who use their e-reader a lot and want that bigger screen, the waterproofing, the thin profile, the one-handed design. There’s a smaller, but not necessarily small, number of people who are willing to pay for that. As it is the Forma is among the most expensive e-readers out there and it’s hard to justify that price for ordinary people who just want a good reader with the warmth control and good type.

The Forma is successful at what it aims to do — provide a credible competitor to Amazon’s most expensive device, and beat it at its own game in the ways Kobo usually beats Kindle. That much I can say for certain. Whether to buy it is between you and your wallet. Pre-orders start October 16.

Walmart and Kobo launch Walmart eBooks, an online e-book and audiobook store

In January, Walmart partnered with Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten on online grocery in Japan, as well as the sale of audiobooks, e-books, and e-readers in the U.S. Today, Walmart is capitalizing on that relationship with the launch of a full e-book and audiobook catalog on Walmart.com, alongside its assortment of physical books. The new site, […]

In January, Walmart partnered with Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten on online grocery in Japan, as well as the sale of audiobooks, e-books, and e-readers in the U.S. Today, Walmart is capitalizing on that relationship with the launch of a full e-book and audiobook catalog on Walmart.com, alongside its assortment of physical books.

The new site, called Walmart eBooks, includes a library of over 6 million titles ranging from NYT best-sellers to indie titles and children’s books.

And similar to Amazon’s Audible, Walmart will also now offer a monthly audiobook subscription service.

However, Walmart is undercutting Amazon on pricing. While Audible subscriptions start at $14.95 per month for one audiobook, Walmart’s subscription is only $9.99 per month for the same.

In addition, Walmart aims to capitalize on its brick-and-mortar stores to help boost Walmart eBooks.

The company says it will sell nearly 40 titles in stores by way of digital books cards. These cards will be for popular books, like The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse-Tyson and Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines. The cards will roll out to 3,500 Walmart stores starting this week.

Walmart will also sell Rakuten-owned Kobo e-readers both online and in stores. Today, customers will see a variety of Kobo e-readers for sale on Walmart’s e-commerce site, and later this week, Kobo Aura e-readers will hit 1,000 stores.

But customers won’t need to own a Kobo device to read these titles. Instead, the e-books can be accessed through co-branded iOS and Android apps, which also launched today.

Rakuten says its relationship with Walmart is part of the company’s larger vision to serve a worldwide audience. The company, founded in 2009, was built with the goal of operating in multiple markets worldwide, including in different languages and currencies. Today, its content reaches 190 countries, and has localized stores in 24.

“Although we are a company that focuses on selling a digital product, retailers and store experiences have always been an important part of the mix in every country we operate in,” said Michael Tamblyn, Rakuten Kobo President and CEO, in a statement. “That’s why we’re excited to partner with Walmart as we grow in the U.S. market. Together, we can provide even more people with a great reading experience, whether that’s print, digital or both.”

Obviously, Walmart’s partnership with Rakuten is a way for the retailer to better compete with Amazon, when it doesn’t build its own e-readers and tablet devices, or offer its own e-books and audiobooks catalog. But customers – especially the value-minded customers who tend to shop Walmart – may not care where the e-books come from, if they cost less.

Meanwhile, Kobo Aura devices are decent products. For example, some are waterproofed, perfect for poolside or bathtime reading. The devices also come in different screen sizes and price points, starting at $99.

Access to a selection of e-books could also help Walmart later on flesh out its own Amazon Prime competitor – something that seems even more likely, given reports that Walmart is now working on its own streaming video service (outside of Vudu) that could become a part of some such program.

To kick off Walmart eBooks’ launch, the retailer is offering new customers $10 off their first a la carte e-book or audiobook. Plus, audiobook subscription customers can try the service free for 30 days.