UK supermarket Tesco has joined the likes of Sainsbury’s, Sony, Amazon, Apple and Google by setting up its own ebook store. The new service, which is branded blinkbox books, has effectively been in the works since September 2012, when Tesco purchased digital book platform Mobcast for £4.5 million from Tony Lynch and Andy McNab.
Apps and ereaders
The blinkbox books app is available for both Android and iOS from launch. It is compatible with both smartphones and tablets, in contrast to blinkbox movies which only supports tablets at present.
Although the demand to read ebooks on smartphones is somewhat limited, it is nonetheless useful to have the option to use additional devices, particularly with manufacturers increasingly focussing on large screen smartphones.
Unlike rivals such as eBooks by Sainsbury’s, blinkbox books does not support reading on dedicated ereaders via Adobe Digital Editions. This means that it is not possible to read ebooks through the service on E Ink devices from Kobo or Nook, and there is also no option to borrow books from a local library.
Purchases from blinkbox books can only be read on mobile devices, so there is no desktop software that is compatible with the service. But whilst having the option to read from your library whatever device you happen to be using has its appeals, there seems to be a trend away from PC and Mac reading, with Nook having discontinued its desktop clients last year.
Why has Tesco decided to enter the ebook market?
Like all UK supermarkets, Tesco has been struggling to grow in a mature market and under tough trading conditions. The company has been attempting to diversify, and has actually been implementing a comprehensive digital strategy for some time.
Tesco purchased an 80% stake in video-on-demand service blinkbox back in April 2011, and this was followed up by the acquisition of music service We7 in June of the following year. Shortly after, the supermarket went on to take control of Mobcast.
The blinkbox name as been used extensively in Tesco’s digital strategy. We7 has since been rebranded blinkbox music, so it is no surprise that name has also been used for the company’s new ebook store.
Tesco has also entered the mobile hardware market, launching their Android-based Hudl tablet at the end of last year in time for the Christmas rush.
As Apple has shown, digital stores offer the potential to generate vast revenues. And there is customer loyalty too, with most people using the default store supplied on their devices, rather than seeking out alternative third party marketplaces.
As Tesco faces significant challenges growing its core business, through products like the Hudl, the company believes it has an opportunity to become a big player in the digital space.
What deals are on offer for Tesco customers?
The obvious target customer for blinkbox books is someone who regularly shops at Tesco. Buying ebooks will earn Clubcard points, which provide coupons and online discount codes for future Tesco purchases.
Given the relative similarities in pricing across all major ebook platforms, regular Tesco customers may be tempted to use blinkbox books due to the wider benefits that are on offer.
One downside to blinkbox books at the moment is that the service does not offer gift cards, although the company has said they are working on making these available in the future.
The most obvious disadvantage of the lack of gift cards is that it is not possible to buy an ebook from blinkbox books for someone else as a gift. But also, customers are unable to gather up any loose change and use it for ebook purchases by buying a gift card on the high street, the same way they can with Kobo and Google Play.
Availability of blinkbox books
Tesco’s digital offering cannot be compared to the likes of Apple, Amazon and Google in terms of global reach.
To register with blinkbox books customers have to be located in the UK and have a UK-registered credit or debit card. Although once an account has been set up, it is possible to purchase ebooks from anywhere in the world.
Geographic restrictions should not come as a surprise, and these may even be lifted in the future. Negotiating access to catalogues with multiple publishers and content providers is a complex process – something that has already delayed international expansion of many of blinkbox’s rivals.
As blinkbox books is an app-based service, publishers have placed limits on the number of devices that a purchase can be downloaded to. This is to prevent accounts being shared amongst friends, with many people therefore able to read an ebook that was only bought once.
The limit varies from publisher to publisher. If an ebook has already been downloaded to the maximum number of devices, it can still be downloaded again by removing the title from an old smartphone or tablet.