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KoboWHSmith, the UK high street bookstore and stationery chain, has hit a new low in e-reader retailing—price-wise—with a deal on the Kobo Mini e-reader for just £29.99 ($47.07), down from its original £49.99 ($78.45) retail price. WHSmith, known to Brits as just Smiths, is also handing out £5.00 ($7.85) gift vouchers on till receipts to take the price down even further, to £24.99 ($39.22). This compares to a current U.S. price for the Kobo Mini of $79.99 at BestBuy, and follows a similar cut on the Nook Simple Touch last month to £29.00 which led to the device selling out at most outlets.

Admittedly, the Kobo Mini may not be the most highly specced e-reader on the market, with a 5-inch screen, an 800Mhz processor, and only 1GB of its 2GB non-expandable memory available to actually store books. Reviews of the device have not been 100 percent positive, although some might find the Mini’s main drawbacks, especially its tiny screen, to be more like advantages for anyone ready to accept the miniscule 138g form factor. There may also be some issues about pricing, and more significantly, discovery on Kobo’s online bookstore, as rehearsed in David Gaughran’s “Let’s Get Visible,” with publishers rather than just popularity deciding what gets most visible.

But at a price point like this, I foresee few objections. Just one click on WHSmith’s homepage can take you to books that cost more than the Kobo Mini at the new price. J. K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy” is carried at a special discount of £12.80 ($20.08), down from a list price of £20.00 ($31.39). Do the math. The reader is now cheaper than at least some of the books you’ll want to read on it.

And what look like drawbacks in the Kobo Mini at a price close to the basic Kindle, which retails at £69.00 ($108.29), look a lot more like strengths when combined with the lower price point. It makes even the 6-inch 212g Nook Simple Touch seem bloated by comparison. Some are actually talking up the potential of the Kobo Mini for modders. Also, as Kobo rubs in, “your eBooks are yours to do with as you please, so you’re never locked in to one device (unlike some other leading eReaders).”

Add a promotion like this to the bad press that Amazon has received in the UK for its tax evasion policies, and the platform-defining market leader might just have a fight on its hands in Britain. British readers, though, can just sit back and enjoy the spoils.

Meanwhile, if I were Michael Gove, UK secretary of state for education and currently one of the best-hated men in Britain, I would score some easy political points by distributing as many of these dirt-cheap devices to underprivileged UK schoolchildren as possible. At prices like these, no one can talk about e-reading as an elite habit any more. UK education badly needs a shot in the arm: Well, here’s one magic bullet for the syringe.

 
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