I had assumed, given the information I had, that WH Smith had been spooked by Play starting to sell the Vox - up until that point they had been the only UK seller of the Kobo seven inch tablet. But tonight (5 February) I note that Asda, the UK arm of US retail giant Wal-Mart, has started to sell the Vox too.
At the moment WH Smith is still the cheapest place to buy the Vox in the UK, at £149.99, and you can get it delivered to your local store for free. Next up is Asda, selling the device for £157.00 and last is Play, selling it for £170.49 (or £169.99 if you're up for a pink model).
My assumption is that Play are giving WH Smith a bit of elbow room - before Rakuten bought Kobo, WH Smith was the sole provider of their products in the UK until, just as WH Smith was ramping up a significant pre Christmas advertising campaign on TV, Asda waded on the scene. This effectively killed off the WH Smith campaign as Asda were undercutting WH Smith on the two models they shared and any advertising WH Smith undertook would be for the benefit of Asda. So perhaps Rakuten is cutting the company that supported its product initially a little slack.
But I don't expect Asda to cut any. If the WH Smith price holds for more than a few days then I expect to see Asda to at least match the WH Smith price. However, being joint cheapest really isn't Asda's way, so we may see a bit of a price war looming.
The bit that should focus all three players, though, is that there is a real market for the mini tablets, as shown in the US since the launch of the Kindle Fire in November. Depending on which report you read, it would seem that Amazon shifted up to 6 Million of the blighters, although I must admit that the higher estimates seem to get a little flaky on detail and that number might include all Kindle devices. Whatever the real results - Amazon are notoriously coy about releasing their sales numbers - it's clear that the Kindle Fire sold well. It was rumoured strongly that the Fire would be released in the UK in January, a strange month to launch anything, but there you go.
Well, it's February, there's no Kindle Fire on sale here and I notice that a lot of industry pundits talking in terms of months now. So that's one reason why it's a good time to be a Kobo Vox seller - anyone who can't afford an iPad, or simply cannot justify the price regardless of easily you can afford it or not, but wants to get in on the tablet market really only has the Vox as a choice this side of the pond.
This, however, is a fluid situation. The rumours about the Barnes & Noble Nook devices coming over here are gathering steam, and it looks like they are seriously courting Waterstones. At least Waterstones don't seem to deny it as vigorously these days. I would suggest that B&N need to move this from rumour to fact as fast as they can, because although the Nook is a well respected device, lauded as superior to the Kindle Fire and the Vox in many corners, B&N and the Nook marque means very little to most UK book readers. If they wait until Amazon gets its act together then they may find that they have a real uphill struggle on their hands.
One thing is certain - by mid summer mini tablets will become big business in the UK and I think £150 to £170 is going to be the norm.
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