“We’ve been working on [selling e-books] pretty much since ReaderLink purchased Levy Home Entertainment,” says ReaderLink Digital president David Barker. Although offering an e-book program to its merchants—which include Wal-Mart, Costco, Target and other large mass, club, grocery, and drug retailers—has been on the agenda for over a year, the company signed an agreement just before Christmas with Berlin-based txtr to be the exclusive partner of its e-book offering in the U.S.

“This partnership opens up an entirely new sales channel for our partners,” says Barker, who sees it as a way for retailers to expand into the digital book space without locking into a specific e-reader device. The ReaderLink/txtr solution is device agnostic and works much like buying a physical book. All digital books are stored in a single library, no matter where the customer purchased them. Although ReaderLink will be offering txtr’s beagle e-reader and a low-cost tablet, the e-books can be read on any device.

For now, ReaderLink plans to focus on making txtr’s 800,000 e-books available on retailer Web sites rather than through in-store kiosks. “Our hope is to have something up and running in the next six to eight months,” says Barker. “We can move faster than that. We’re ready to go. There’s a significant amount of showrooming that goes on. Our idea is to let retailers capture those customers.”

What makes this solution a potential challenge to established digital book programs, as Barker points out, is that ReaderLink works with large retailers used to drawing shoppers, including book buyers, to their Web sites. Now they’ll be able to compete in the digital book space. ReaderLink won’t be the vendor or record; the retailers will control their own marketing and retailing strategy.

The txtr agreement coupled with the print-on-demand arrangement ReaderLink signed last fall with Xerox and On Demand Books, makers of the Espresso Book Machine, enables it to offer “a total package.” Barker says that a pilot POD program could launch in late spring. And the ReaderLink contract with txtr allows it to sell to independents. Although it is working with its large clients first, ReaderLink is interested in exploring partnerships with indie booksellers to carry the same device-agnostic e-books.