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Would You Like An E-Book With Those Groceries?

Tesco, the British grocery giant, gets into e-reading.
September 6, 2012

Stateside, we tend to think of the e-book wars as mostly a clash between Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with Apple thrown in to the mix. Abroad though, it may not be that simple. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden reports that the retail giant Tesco (it’s the third-largest retailer in the world after Wal-Mart and Carrefour) has bought Mobcast, a digital bookseller. Tesco shelled out a little over $7 million for the deal–more or less chump change for a company of its stature, actually.

“We want our customers to have the widest choice in digital entertainment,” the CEO of Tesco Digital Entertainment Michael Cornish said in a release. “We are already one of the UK’s largest booksellers and Mobcast will help us offer even more choice for the large and growing number of customers who want to buy and enjoy books on their digital devices whenever and wherever they want.”

What does Tesco gain by snapping up Mobcast? Mobcast’s vast digital book catalogue. The company secured the catalogues of major publishers and partnered with mobile network operators, equipment manufacturers, and retailers, earning an ME Award in 2010 for “Best Mobile Book Company.” The company also brings an author’s perspective to the tech business; Mobcast was cofounded by action author Andy McNab.

Mobcast isn’t an e-reading device; rather, it’s a digital book retail platform with a vast catalogue of popular books in the UK. Books purchased on Mobcast are stored on the cloud and can be accessed from various devices.

Since Tesco already sells Kindles, what’s going on here? Tesco’s expertise is in consumer data. “Arguably, Tesco has the best data in the world on its customers,” Cornish has said. By growing its digital portfolio–Tesco has also purchased an Internet radio service, WE7, as well as Blinkbox, a video-on-demand provider–Tesco can collect even more valuable data on its customers. Or as Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer of Columbia University, explained to CNN: “Getting into the electronic purchase cycle of a family, whether it’s for books or something else, gets you in much more regular touch with them than if they were just buying a physical product.” 

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