Kobo: Ending Agency Pricing Will Kill Us

17 March 2014

From The Digital Reader:

Canada’s Competition Bureau announced a settlement last month with 4 publishers to end agency pricing, but it looks like the process isn’t going to go as smooth as one might have expected.

Kobo has filed an objection to the consent decree, and they ask that the settlement be modified so that they are not negatively impacted by the sudden and radical change to the Canadian ebook market.

As part of their filing. Kobo revealed some rather telling details about their business. They blame the end of agency in the US for the loss of their market share, and they predict that the same will happen in Canada.

. . . .

In short, Kobo is saying that when Amazon was allowed to discount ebooks in the US, Kobo was unable to compete effectively, not even by means other than price (marketing, CS, features, community). This is rather curious because other companies, including Zola Books, The Reading Room, Bilbary, Oyster, and Scribd all seem to be able to compete effectively against Amazon in the US ebook market.

. . . .

On a related note, if Kobo has only a negligible market share in the US then I have to wonder whether their partners at the ABA, and its IndieBound program, are beginning to regret betting on the losing horse.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Ebook company Kobo replaces its CEO

5 February 2014

From GigaOm:

Canadian ebook company Kobo, which was acquired by Japanese retail giant Rakuten in 2011, is replacing its founder and CEO Michael Serbinis with a Japanese executive, the company announced Tuesday. Takahito “Taka” Aiki, who was the CEO of Rakuten’s telecom company Fusion Communications, steps into the new role effective immediately, while Serbinis remains involved with the company as vice chairman.

According to Kobo’s announcement, Aiki “was responsible for the online business of Japan’s top bookstore and video rental company Tsutaya, where he helped grow its online membership by 250% in only two years” — though his LinkedIn profile says that was from 2002 to 2004, long before the rise of ebooks.

. . . .

Kobo didn’t provide a reason why Serbinis is stepping down. But the company’s share of the ebook market in the U.S. is far behind that of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple. The company has largely focused on an international strategy of partnering with local bookstore chains to sell its e-readers, which may be increasingly difficult as Kindle availability expands abroad rapidly.

Link to the rest at GigaOm

Infinite Shades of Grey – Kobo Talks about Self-Publishing Take-down

27 November 2013

Thanks to David for the tip.

Kobo launches e-book readers, tablet in India

2 November 2013

From The Times of India:

Canada based company Kobo and Crossword Bookstores has ventured into the Indian market with a range of ebook readers and tablets. The line-up consists of Kobo Touch, Kobo Glo and Kobo Aura HD ebook readers and the Kobo Arc tablet. These products will compete against Amazon’s range of Kindle devices in the country.

. . . .

Kobo’s new ebook readers and tablets will be available in retail locations across India in partnership with Crossword. Readers will also have access to Kobo’s eBookstore, which has approximately 4 million titles across 68 languages and offers 95% of India’s bestselling content. The online book store will provide buyers access to work from Indian as well as international bestselling authors.

Link to the rest at The Times of India

If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?

17 October 2013

Chris McCrudden on Publishing:

“I want to talk about self-publishing. In particular the self-published pornography that found its way on WH Smith’s website via the retailer’s partnership with Kobo, which was spotted by The Mail on Sunday and has since led to a virulent press and social media campaign against ‘vile trade’.”


“For me this episode highlights a fundamental tension within the eBook selling industry which is all about why being a platform is different to being a retailer. The success of platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Kobo’s Writing Life are quality neutral at the point of entry. They exist to scoop up a critical mass of content because they believe consumers want to deal with the platform with the biggest inventory.”

Read the rest here:  If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?

Julia Barrett

Kobo Goes Nuclear on Self-Published Books — But Why?

15 October 2013

From author Ryan Casey:

Last night, a lot of self-publishers and writers went to bed wondering whether they were going to lose a revenue stream as Kobo appeared to yank all self-published books from its shelves. Some eye-witness reports claimed it was UK only, while others from around the world added that their books had also disappeared. At a glance, it appeared that Kobo had for some reason come down hard on self-published ebooks, but without any official word, nobody could really say why. Mass panic and hysteria ensued. Bomb shelters were occupied. Self-published authors braced for the apocalypse.

As the day progressed and more information became available, it appeared that Kobo’s pulling of self-published ebooks was a direct response to WH Smith’s website closure. For those overseas, WH Smith (or ‘Smiths’, as it is more commonly referred in ol’ Blighty) is probably one of the two remaining major high street book retailers. Nowadays, it’s more akin to its former self as a glorified newsagents, making more income from discount Mars bars than books.

The reason WH Smith are so crucial to the understanding of Kobo’s seeming act of insanity is that they are Kobo’s number one UK partner. I’d go as far as saying that if it weren’t for Smiths, Kobo would be as good as non-existent in the UK.

. . . .

I still believe WH Smith should take some responsibility for their own inept privacy options. A simple tick box with, ‘do you want your search to feature explicit content?’ would’ve protected children from accidentally stumbling upon such literature. Smashwords have had such an option for years, and they’re doing just fine.

But anyway, I digress. As a result of WH Smith — Kobo’s major UK partner, remember — closing their website and demanding all self-published books were cleaned and properly moderated, Kobo were left with two options. The first, more reasonable option to all, would likely have been something along the lines of what Amazon are doing — policing the self-published environment and gradually removing the offending content. Option two was to immediately cave to WH Smith’s demands and put the interest of its business partnership before its authors and readers.

. . . .

However, despite the bad media press, what has been encouraging is the number of ‘Save Indie’ campaigns I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter, not from writers, but from readers. It seems like readers respect the hard work that all authors put in, whether traditionally published or indie, and are willing to fight for the freedom of self-published authors. It’s a nice sign of the times, that’s for sure, and while the mainstream media continues to be influenced by major institutional relationships, the power of the people is clear to see.

Overall though, I think that Kobogate (can we refer to it as that from now on?) highlights two rather interesting but unrelated points. Firstly, as an author, it has shown me the importance of spreading my output rather than putting my eggs into one basket. Fortunately for me — and for many — I don’t make much money at Kobo. However, just imagine if it had been Amazon that’d had the kneejerk reaction. All those people making money from their series, all those enrolled in Select… *shudders to think*. So, from the end of this week, I’ll be focusing on expanding my work’s reach. My second novel, Killing Freedom, will be available on all platforms this Friday.

Link to the rest at Ryan Casey

Metadata misfire

15 October 2013

From Futurebook:

The W H Smith offensive content affair is the car that keeps crashing.

The W H Smith website has been offline since Sunday at what ought to be one of its busiest periods—just to be clear, this is the entire website, not just the e-book section.

Smiths’ new holding page not only draws attention to the “number of unacceptable titles” that were appearing on its site, some of which the Mail on Sunday had drawn attention to, but also indicates how rushed its response has been, as is evident from the typo in the last sentence. Meanwhile, its e-book supplier Kobo has been busy removing ALL self-published titles, and also titles submitted through Kobo’s Writing Life platform by other small publishers.

Kobo has said that it is reviewing its policies and procedures to implement safeguards that will ensure the situation “does not happen in the future”. It says that it expects the titles that comply with its rules to be put back up “within a week”.

. . . .

Both WHS and Kobo have stressed that this is not a problem isolated either to its site, or to self-published writers. In some ways they might count themselves unlucky to be the prime target of the Mail’s hostile glare: prior to the Mail report almost all the tweets about this subject from the journalist Jeremy Duns have been directed at Amazon. News website the Kernel’s first piece focussed solely on Amazon, while its second piece referenced “Barnes & Noble, W H Smith, Waterstones and Foyles”. In terms of market impact, Amazon is the driver of self-published material, not WHS.

But WHS holds a special place in the mind of middle-Britain: it’s a family retailer with a high street presence. When it gets it wrong, it pays a bigger price. That explains what some might see as a massive over-reaction.

. . . .

If anything good is to come out of this, then everyone involved should take a long hard look at their systems and the IT infrastructure that is supposed to underpin these sites. And invest. That WHS cannot untangle the rest of its website from its e-books, or even books, platform, is understandable but an issue that ought to be resolvable. That Kobo seems unable to delineate between offensive self-published material and other works, and that they are also including in the cull titles published by smaller publishers, is similarly something we might all sympathise with but is still puzzling.

. . . .

I kind of thought we were on top of this: that we are not is alarming, but also greatly undermining of a community the traditional book business ought to be nurturing—namely authors. One of the things big businesses can do is create safe environments for small players to operate within. As Alliance of Independent Authors founder Orna Ross told The Bookseller: “Many of our members’ livelihoods are being affected while we wait for W H Smith to solve a problem of their own making. This disproportionately affects UK members as many of the questionable titles seem to be still for sale in other territories.”

Link to the rest at Futurebook


Kobo Cull Self-Published Titles In Knee-jerk Response To Tabloid Clickbait

15 October 2013

From David Gaughran:

A media firestorm erupted in the UK on Sunday after a tabloid story about WH Smith selling “filth” alongside books aimed at children, which has resulted in Kobo culling huge numbers of self-published titles – most of which have no erotic content whatsoever.

It’s hard to know exactly how many titles Kobo has pulled. What we do know is thatKobo has removed all 7,883 self-published titles distributed to their store via Draft2Digital, as confirmed in an email from D2D’s CEO to affected authors.

However, I think that’s only a tiny fraction of affected titles. Many self-published authors who distribute via the (much larger) Smashwords service have reported their books are no longer on sale on Kobo’s UK store, as have many authors who uploaded to Kobo direct, via their self-publishing platform Kobo Writing Life. And, indeed, it’s not just self-publishers that are affected. Lots of small publishers either use a distributor like Smashwords, or upload direct via KWL.

Those not in the UK will be unaware of the full extent of the problem, as only those with UK IP addresses can view the Kobo UK store. But when I ran a simple check of 10 self-published authors – none of whom write erotica or romance – half were missing from the UK store. Indeed, all seven of my titles have been pulled – which I uploaded direct via KWL – and I don’t write erotica (and don’t have any other pen-names).

. . . .

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are reported to have quietly removed the titles in question, but Kobo seems to be at the mercy of its partner sites. WH Smith closing their entire site (and they sell lots of products other than books) has put intense pressure on Kobo, who reacted with the braindead decision to cull huge chunks of their self-published catalogue. I don’t know how they decided which books to pull, but it’s quite clear that most books removed don’t have any erotic content and are written by authors who haven’t published any erotic content.

And the moral panic is spreading. Whitcoulls – Kobo’s partner in New Zealand – has closed their ebookstore completely until they can “guarantee that any inappropriate material, that has been available through self published eBooks, has been removed from the Kobo eBook catalogue.”

. . . .

Personally, I’m of the view (and I accept there’s a range of opinion on this) that a retailer can decide to stock whatever they like, and I don’t consider it censorship when any given retailer decides they don’t want to stock certain stuff. But when all retailers move in lockstep in response to a panic manufactured by a tabloid famous for clickbaiting, then that acts as a form of quasi-censorship.

And I have a real problem with outsourcing moral decisions to a tabloid like the Daily Mail.

Of course, there’s also quite a bit of double standards here. Even the Daily Mail admitted that not all the titles they outed were self-published, but Kobo’s actions have only targeted self-publishers. Indeed, the biggest selling book of 2012 was Fifty Shades of Grey which still remains on sale at Kobo, along with Flowers in the Attic (incest), Lolita (underage sex), and Justine by the Marquis de Sade (the works).

I’m not suggesting that those books should also be removed – far from it. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of corporations acting as moral policemen. I don’t think it should be a free-for-all, but we need to be very careful before we take the step of banning certain kinds of books because we personally find the contents objectionable.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Catherine for the tip.

3 Simple Censorship Rules Can Safeguard Self-Published Ebooks

15 October 2013

From Digital Book World:

It all seemed so sweet; anybody can get their book published on Kobo or Amazon without having to endure a zillion rejections from picky publishers, and what’s more they can pocket the lion’s share of the sale. What could be more liberating? But like everything on the net, there is always a dark side. As Amazon and Barnes & Noble scramble to remove titles listed by the technology news site The Kernel, the books and magazine retailer W H Smiths in the UK has shut down their entire website to block access and their notice states they will not be displaying any self-published books when it returns until they can be entirely satisfied with the content. So what are the implications of this sudden turn of events and why has it suddenly arisen?

This is a tough moment for online retailers of content because by removing books from sale they clearly admit that this content is unsuitable or breaks laws. Unlike the agency model pioneered by Apple and shot down by the US Justice department, the sales contract lies between the consumer and the seller and therefore there is a real prospect that retailers have liability, but this is for a lawyer to argue.

. . . .

However, it is simply not practicable for every self-published text to be read before publication without massively slowing down growth and adding to cost. Events suggest that the balance has gone awry and moreover it may not be so simple to fix.

Age verification is very difficult to police and particularly on large aggregator sites such as Amazon or Kobo with millions of books available in all genres. These identified poisonous writings can turn up in search results made by children and are not secured behind a gated area as they have not been identified by the systems as harmful. This is site architecture and safeguards and not a simple patch, and so it seems that W H Smith saw the only responsible option was to shut down.

. . . .

I wrestled with these issues in 2008 when I launched a free-to-publish, user-generated content site, YUDU Free which today publishes about 800 publications a day that include books, magazines and many other types of publications. All the problems that have emerged today were hot topics of debate during the site design and rule setting. Our goal was to create a family and school friendly site but at the same time allow freedom to publish. Our solution was to set three clear rules that were very prominent at all stages of publishing: No incitement to violence, no adult content and no copyright abuse. We set out the rules and gave folksy guidance on each. For example the adult content states “The content must be suitable for viewing with your friends and family. The content must be suitable for viewing at work with the knowledge of your boss & colleagues. The material used must be suitable for open sale in high street retailers or shopping malls.”

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG will comment that the agency model does not solve legal problems as the author suggests, at least under US law. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution makes US and UK law substantially different on freedom to publish and government censorship issues. The First Amendment was, in part, a response to British suppression of pro-independence publications prior to the Revolutionary War.

When agency pricing was in place, there was always a contract between the etailer and the purchaser.

Kobo Now Removing All(?) Self-Published Titles From Their UK eBookstore

14 October 2013

From The Digital Reader:

When WH Smith responded to the news that they were selling adult content by turning off their website and promising to turn it on again ”once all self published eBooks have been removed”, I thought that they were exaggerating.

Now I am not so sure.

I have numerous independent reports that Kobo is pulling self-published titles from their UK ebookstore. And they’re not just removing erotica; I have confirmation that self-published ebooks from a wide variety of genres have been removed.

For those who are just tuning in, Kobo and their UK partner ebookstore WH Smith are responding to the “news” last week that they were selling adult content.

. . . .

I have reports in the comment section of this blog from three different authors that say their ebooks are gone from Kobo’s UK ebookstore. One report comes from David Gaughran, who as you might know is an SF author. He doesn’t write erotica, but he does publish his own novels via Kobo Writing Life:

All my titles have been removed from Kobo UK, and I don’t write erotica (and I uploaded direct).

On a quick check of about 10 random authors (who don’t write erotica), about half seem to be missing from the UK store – including some big sellers. All Draft2Digital titles, and some Smashwords and Kobo Writing Life titles.

Oddly enough, his ebooks are still available in the US, even though D2D says that the titles they distribute are completely gone. It is only in his home market of the UK that Kobo will not sell his ebooks.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

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