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Is Walmart Afraid of Kindle (and the Future)?

The public understands why Walmart wants the Kindle off of its shelves. What kind of retail store would sell a product that encourages customers to shop from home? That would be like a bar selling home brewing kits to customers.

The big box chain’s very public move to drop the reader, however, is mostly symbolic because Kindle sales do not constitute a significant amount of revenue for Walmart. Symbolic gestures, however, are designed to make a statement. So what, exactly, is Walmart trying to convey to the public?

Ostensibly, Walmart’s stance is an act of defiance against the Amazon juggernaut. And that’s fine; Americans like a little rebellion and feistiness. But by kicking Kindle to the curb, is Walmart communicating the strong message its handlers seem to it is? Probably not.

There is a difference between being stoic and principled and just being afraid and defensive. The public recognizes this important disparity because we’ve seen it before. Digitization flipped the music industry upside down–and it did the same to the publishing industry and to media in general. Now Walmart is acting like it believes brick-and-mortar retail stores will be next to fall. And that’s not very attractive behavior.

Walmart’s PR experts must proceed carefully from this point. Their formidable brand isn’t just fighting a competitive rival–it’s resisting the steady and inevitable march of time. Civilization is increasingly investing its energy into digital spaces and away from parking spaces. By dropping Kindle, Walmart is acting like the kid who wants to take his ball and go home.

The only problem is, for retail brands, those homes are becoming home pages.

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