Tolino hits the coffee shops

The Tolino e-reader, which was developed and marketed by an alliance of German bookshops, has just passed Amazon’s Kindle with regard to market share in the (still tiny) German e-book market (well, sort of) and now Tolino has landed a new coup. Because now an older Tolino model, the Tolino Shine, is available at Tschibo at the drastically reduced price of 69.99 EUR, down from 99 EUR. There’s even a free e-book – Endgame by James Frey – included.

For those who are not German, an explanation of what Tschibo is would be in order. Tschibo and a similar, now defunct chain called Eduscho started out as coffee companies. Tschibo and Eduscho coffee was mainly sold via bakeries (and there are a lot of bakeries in Germany), which either had a Tschibo or Eduscho licence. Sometime in the early 1970s, Tschibo had the idea to sell products other than coffee, because a new law forbid them from adding premiums to coffee packages, so Tschibo simply sold off the superfluous premiums, mostly stuff like coffee tins and the like, via its bakery network. This was a huge success, so Tschibo and rival Eduscho started offering a weekly changing roster of products ranging from clothes via jewellery and toys to household goods and electronics. And because the products were sold in neighbourhood bakeries, they were pretty much ubiquitous. Eventually, Tschibo also opened its own network of stores that sold only Tschibo products and coffee, took its weekly specials (and its coffee) into supermarkets and drugstore chains and opened an online store. They also offered insurances and banking services for a while and still offer package holidays, mobile phone services and gas and power supply services. Not bad for a coffee company.

These days, racks of Tschibo specials are everywhere, in supermarkets, drugstores and maybe even in your local bakery. And because Tschibo products are so ubiquitous, pretty much every German household owns at least a few. My first camera was a pocket camera from Tschibo for fifteen Deutschmarks, a thrilling birthday gift when you’re nine. At the age of fifteen, I had a silver and gold and zirconia ring from Tschibo (I still have it somewhere, though it no longer fits me). Until they bought a DeLongi a few years ago, my parents used a Tschibo espresso machine. I still have a Tschibo indoor/outdoor thermometer somewhere.

So in short, Tschibo is ubiquitous in Germany, even if you don’t drink their coffee and haven’t drunk it in a long time. And now they’re selling cheap e-readers. This is a pretty big coup for Tolino, because it brings e-readers to a new audience, namely the many, many people who buy Tschibo stuff. And this new audience will not be buying at Amazon, but at the various Tolino stores (apparently is the one that’s integrated into the reader itself, though users can purchase e-books at all Tolino alliance stores and indeed all stores that sell ePubs). This is also quite a big deal for indies, because the Tolino stores are far less indie-friendly than Amazon.

There is a catch, since the Tolino e-readers will apparently be only available via Tschibo‘s online store and not on racks in bakeries, supermarkets and drugstores throughout Germany. Here is the relevant page at the Tschibo online store. Note the vaguely creepy image of the woman biting into her brandnew Tolino reader, as if it were a particularly tasty piece of cake.

So once again, Tolino is proving itself to be a viable challenger to Amazon. Indies should definitely take note.

PS: Browsing the Tschibo online store, I noticed that they’re offering a 3D-printer for 499 EUR. Damn it, I’m almost tempted now.

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