E-book upstart Txtr signs majors for U.S. push

When you think of e-readers, you probably picture the hardware first: the Kindle (s AMZN), Nook (s BKS), iPad (s AAPL) or maybe even a Kobo. But not all digital reading takes place on one of these devices — and to try and capitalize on that, upstart txtr has just announced deals with four major U.S. publishers.

Although the Berlin-based company, headed up by local entrepreneur and super-angel Christophe Maire, did previously try to make its own physical e-reader, it now focuses on providing its own e-reading apps for use by third parties. That includes a number of significant customers, including white-label stores for the likes of Samsung, Toshiba, T-Mobile, the UK book chain Foyles and the Dutch e-tailer bol.com.

It already had content deals with Random House and a few others, but it’s now adding to its roster with deals to add titles from Hachette, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Wily and Penguin — as well as the Ingram Content Group’s Core Source Plus program.

“The strength of txtr is this: its international operations in terms of store management, e-commerce, and publisher relationship management,” chief commercial officer Thomas Leliveld said. The deal, he added, meant that “the txtr catalogue soon will rival that of long-established U.S.-based e-book companies.”

Not only has the company (which is quarter-owned by U.S. omnicorp 3M) inked these new publisher partnerships, but it’s also opening a New York office under the leadership of Dan Vidra, a 12-year veteran of Simon & Schuster. According to Vidra, the U.S. push is a “natural extension” for the firm, given that many of its device-manufacturer partners are also present in that market.

“The USA is the world’s largest and most advanced e-book market. This makes it necessary for a global e-book player to have a presence,” Vidra said.

Txtr already runs more than 25 local-language e-book stores. Sure, it’s hard to imagine it going head-to-head with the Kindle or the Microsoft-backed Nook, but that’s not really the game txtr is playing.

Fact is, as long as device manufacturers and telcos want to resist ceding content control to Amazon and the rest, they will want to bundle other e-reader apps alongside their products and services. Here txtr comes up against rivals such as Bluefire — but the Vidra hire and publisher deals announced this week could give it an edge over its competition.