Kobo Launches Partner Program, New E-book Reader

E-book retailer Kobo, in a move to better compete with Amazon (s amzn) and Barnes and Noble (s bks), announced today both a partner program and a dedicated reader of its own. Kobo needs to extend its reach in order to maintain the sales growth required to negotiate competitive deals with book publishers, which determine what retailers can charge for new books. The move also comes just ahead of the launch of Apple’s iPad next month, which is expected to heat up the e-book space even further.

Kobo started life as Shortcovers; it changed its name last year as part of its push to shed its image as a small, independent bookseller. In addition to offering millions of e-books in its online store, Kobo also offers reader applications for the iPhone (s aapl), BlackBerry (s rimm), Android (s goog) and webOS (s palm) platforms, all of which handle content in the standard ePUB and PDF formats.

The company’s electronic reader is aptly named Kobo eReader. Sporting a 6-inch e-Ink display like the Nook and Kindle, along with other similar features, what Kobo’s reader offers that the others don’t is the ability to sync the reader library to a computer via Bluetooth. This inclusion is no doubt to counter the Kobo eReader’s lack of 3G connectivity the Kindle and Nook both include. The Kobo eReader is launching at an introductory price of $149.

Kobo is also starting a partner program to make its reader application available to hardware partners for inclusion on other readers. The “Powered by Kobo” program provides partners with development tools to bring branded versions of the Kobo reader app to dedicated readers, smartphones and tablets. Kobo will also provide a mobile storefront for partners to sell Kobo content.

The timing of this partner program meshes up with similar programs by chipmakers Marvell and Freescale. These companies provide reference designs for e-readers for small companies that lack the technical ability to produce the hardware from scratch. Kobo’s program will offer the software side of the equation to help get new readers from these small companies on the shelf .

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