Borders, the Kobo and The Office

Borders Kobo Reader on the Office

It’s not just the Kindle. Other TV shows are also featuring digital readers — and sometimes, in a big way. In January, NBC’s The Office built an entire episode around the Kobo ereader, suggesting that there may even have been a product placement deal — that is, that the writers were paid to work it into the plot!

I’m just fascinated by these little moments of pop culture that show how the Kindle and other readers are working their way into the popular imagination. They’re appearing in stories that would never have occurred to anyone in even five years ago. This episode opened with Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), who plays the boss at the Scranton branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company. “January 23, 2011,” he says into the camera. “A day which will live in famously.”

He’s not the one using the digital reader. (He’s just worried that his former girlfriend had gotten engaged – although he does add that “If she’s engaged, I’m going to go crazy and I’m going to start attacking people.”) But back among the workers, there’s a lively discussion about New Year’s resolutions, with creepy Dwight Schrute teasing his former girlfriend that his goal for 2011 is “Meet a loose woman”. (And his co-worker Andy agrees.) “You know what you guys should do?” suggests Darryl from the warehouse. “Go to the bookstore at lunch. There’s tons of cuties and it’s easy to talk to them. ‘Hey, what book is that? Cool, let’s hang out tonight. Sex already? Whoa…!'”

Suddenly this strange sitcom is veering towards a visit to the bookstore. And it’s really because digital reading devices are a hot consumer trend in 2011. The writers, based on whatever motivation, now find themselves leading their characters into a Borders bookstore. They cut away to a private interview with Darryl, where he reveals that he isn’t really going there to pick up women. Darryl’s New Year’s resolution was to read more books — and he’d really just wanted a ride to the store!

And that’s when the Kobo appears.

Kobo reader with Daryl from The Office

“Well, if you read a lot, you should check out our ereaders,” a sweet, middle-aged cashier tells Darryl at the register, adding…

“They’re really neat.”

“I work at a paper company. Those things terrify me. They could put us out of business. I heard those things hold like 10 books at once.”

“Actually, it’s 10,000.”

“Holy ####! What? Let me see it…”

Darryl is impressed. (“It’s so light. Like a croissant.”) But his co-workers are having no luck picking up women, and Dwight announces “This place is kind of tapped out, so let’s roll.” But as they’re leaving the store, it turns out that Darryl is carrying a bag that he doesn’t want his co-workers to see. He claims it contains “A book about oceans,” then later tries to claim that it’s pornography. But later in the episode — as the men somehow end up at a roller-skating rink — Darryl is seen slipping away, to read on his brand new Kobo.

Darryl reads his Kobo with Dwight and Andy at the skating rink on the Office

In a way, I feel bad for the Kobo, though. On their Facebook page, they announced a contest to celebrate the episode — asking “What are you reading at the Office.” You didn’t even have to own a Kindle to enter the contest — the prize was 10 free ebooks or a Kobo eReader — but the response was underwhelming. They received just 40 photographs from people entering the contests. You could also enter just by leaving a comment on their web page, but the total number of comments was just 218. (Although to be fair, you could also enter the contest just by clicking the “Like” button the Kobo’s Facebook page, and there’s now 15,712 people who have done so.)

Maybe they would’ve gotten a larger response if they’d given away a Kindle!

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