Here's something you don't see every day. A major US-based electronics retailer offering one of the big names in e-readers for well under $100. In Canada. The offer is for a refurbished Kobo e-reader (the non-wireless version Borders was selling for $149 less than a year ago) and Best Buy in Canada is offering the device this week, complete with a one year Kobo warranty, for $69.99.
Canadians are accustomed to crossing the border to stock up on cheaper electronics in the US. It's something of a national hobby, especially in the Toronto to Buffalo corridor. So what's going on? There are a few variables potentially in play.
First of all, Canadian book chain Indigo Chapters is the primary partner behind the Kobo e-reader. So it makes sense that if there are refurb units available, they would be concentrated in the Great White North. Second, is the fact that these are refurbished units and refurbished first generation units at that; not the latest wireless numbers. Third is the fact that the sale units are white. For some reason, white just doesn't sell the way black does when it comes to e-readers. Maybe they look more toy-like in white or maybe the white gets more noticeably dirty from handling, but if you want the black version, you have to pony up $89.99, which is much less of a deal. The final factor is pure conjecture, but I wouldn't be surprised if the current Borders financial situation is putting the Kobo name in an unfavorable light, and this is an attempt to get Kobo out there in a more positive spin.
Whatever the reasons, this is an interesting development, because we have a decent e-reader that's not only broken the $100 ceiling, it's under $75. Keep in mind that it was only a few years ago that e-readers were priced in the $400 range, and in 2010, getting in under $150 became the target for mass adoption. These may be refurbs and they may be sitting in a store in Canada, but they've set a bar for low cost. At a price point like this, an e-reader becomes less of an investment and approaches an impulse purchase for many people. The device becomes affordable to others who may have previously been priced out of the market, especially knowing that it was one of the top tier models, well reviewed and covered by the same length of warranty as a new version. Consider the value proposition we outlined for buying an e-book reader, then plug 70 bucks into the hardware cost and this e-reader is going to pay for itself pretty quickly. Many people will have recouped that purchase price before the one year warranty runs out.
Time to start watching the US sales flyers, because the precedent has been set.