JB Hi-Fi is not a brand synonymous with ebooks. At least not yet. The electronics retailer made headlines this week, surprising Australians by launching the Now Books store, alongside iOS and Android ereader apps.
But while the move into digital books surprised pundits - a market so tough that neither Dymocks nor Borders could compete in the local market against internet behemoth Amazon and its Kindle lineup- for JB Hi-Fi, it was a natural evolution of the business.
"The retail book category, at over $2.5 billion in Australia, is bigger than DVDs and CDs combined, and ebook popularity is growing rapidly because of connected devices like tablets and smartphones," says Scott Browning, Marketing Director at JB Hi-Fi.
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"As JB is the biggest seller of tablets and EPUB DRM ereaders in Australia, this [move] is a 'no-brainer'. Ebooks are a natural growth extension of the home entertainment digital content offering (for us) as our regular customers are already heavily engaged with ebooks in particular," he says.
What's more, the launch of an ebook store offers JB an opportunity to engage its customers, linking its ereader hardware sales with the digital store through its significant gift card program.
With over 250,000 books at launch and 100,000 set to "arrive soon", JB has managed to get all the major Australian publishers on board, and is now working with minor publishers to expand the offering. Thanks to the safety of Adobe's ebook DRM, Browning doesn't expect any disadvantage with the availability of titles from publishers either.
"The Adobe DRM was considered to be the most platform agnostic and resilient consumer option as it allowed us to develop established solutions for PC, Mac, iOS, Android and some of the more popular ereaders like Kobo," Browning explains.
A digital shift
One of the more interesting aspects of the Now Book store launch wasn't so much that it happened, but that it indicated a real shift in JB's approach to content. Following on from the launch of Now Music back in December 2011, it seems that the bricks and mortar retail store is coming to grips with the realities of digital distribution faster than its competitors.
"[JB Hi-Fi] has always looked closely at the relationship between the devices we sell and the consumption behaviours they support," explains Browning.
"[That could be] selling CDs with audio equipment, DVDs with DVD players, Blu-ray with hi-def TVs, games with consoles, headphones with iPods and now digital content with connected mobility such as tablets and smartphones."
"Little has changed in our DNA from that perspective as these are logical steps in our model to evolve in step with our customers," Browning adds.
With that in mind, it seems only logical that the next step for JB would be a move into digital video distribution. And with platforms like UltraViolet making that a somewhat easier proposition for a retailer, it's not impossible to imagine a JB Hi-Fi digital video platform in the near future.
"Video on demand and UltraViolet redemption are definitely other logical extensions and it's a case of watch this space for now," teases Browning.