Kobo

Canada’s Rakuten Kobo Arrives in Amazonian America at Walmart: Ebooks and Audiobooks

22 August 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

You’ll remember Publishing Perspectives’ January article on Rakuten Kobo’s plan to re-enter the American market–generally thought to be Amazonian territory–through a new partnership with Walmart.

On Tuesday (August 21), Walmart eCommerce’s general manager for entertainment, Mario Pacini, has gone onto the company’s blog pages to announce that the advent of Walmart Ebooks by Rakuten Kobo is at hand. The program has its landing page in place, with a “US$10 off your first ebook or audiobook” offer and–perhaps of greatest eventual significance in these audio boom-times–a 30-day trial on a $9.99-per-month audiobook subscription.

Once the customer clicks into the Walmart page for a category of interest–ebooks or audiobooks–she or he is taken to a Rakuten Kobo page. Choose hardcover or paperbacks, and you remain on Walmart’s pages. Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch is reporting that it appears a consumer will need a Walmart account, rather than using a Kobo account.

. . . .

To stay with audiobooks for a moment, the Kobo-Walmart audiobook offer undercuts by $5 the Amazon Audible subscription. Both subscriptions provide one audiobook monthly, Audible for $14.95, Walmart Ebooks by Rakuten Kobo for $9.99.

. . . .

And more broadly, this is a potentially pivotal move for Kobo. While the company has described its “strategy from day one”–that’s Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn using a favorite Amazon phrase, “day one”–as “partnering with the world’s best retailers so that they can easily offer their customers the option of reading digitally.” And it may finally be a way into the big continent-spanning market down the road from Toronto.

Despite partnerships with independent bookstores through the American Booksellers Association, Kobo’s presence in the States has never moved past single digits in market share, although it has maintained the home-team advantage “up north” in Canada.

. . . .

However, expect no one in Seattle to break out in a sweat here. Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem is profoundly dominant in the American marketplace, tied as it is into the Amazon Prime amalgam of advantages to retail consumers. The retailer is effectively a service-member of many US families now, the unquestioned go-to for everything from tonight’s movie to Saturday’s lawnmower and the kitchen pantry’s automatically restocking staples.

. . . .

Some might say this is stooping to conquer, but if the money comes in, Tokyo and Toronto may not be dismayed that American consumers are saying, “Oh, I got that ebook from Walmart” or “Shh, I’m listening to my Walmart book.”

At Inc, Justin Bariso, in covering on Monday (August 20) Walmart’s strong earnings report, points out that while the chain’s huge fleet of brick-and-mortar big-box stores grew at 4.5 percent, its e-commerce business, where Kobo stands, great at a rate of 40 percent, in CEO Doug McMillon’s plan, precisely to better compete with Amazon. The Rakuten Kobo element now can be seen standing beside McMillon’s steps toward more up-market branding in areas like fashion, in which Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Donna Karen and other labels are coming in with Lord and Taylor.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives


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PG says competition in the ebook space is good for indie authors. Among other things, it reduces the possibilities that anyone will take authors for granted.

Walmart joins, well, most of its competitors in selling e-books

26 January 2018

From Ars Technica:

Most Walmart stores have modest book sections, but now the company plans to expand that with digital books. Walmart announced that it’s teamed up with Japan’s Rakuten to sell e-books, audiobooks, and Rakuten’s Kobo e-readers later this year.

“We have long been a destination for entertainment including digital content—whether movies through VUDU or the digital game cards we sell in our stores,” Walmart’s statement said. “E-books and audiobooks are a great addition to our assortment. Working with Rakuten Kobo enables us to quickly and efficiently launch a full e-book and audiobook catalog on Walmart.com to provide our customers with additional choices alongside our assortment of physical books.”

. . . .

Customers will be able to shop for e-books and audiobooks on Walmart’s website, and the retailer will sell e-readers in its stores and online. Walmart also plans to sell “e-book cards” in its stores, which seem to be physical cards customers can buy while shopping at a Walmart store that contain a download code for access to an e-book or audiobook after they leave the store.

While digital book shopping will be done on Walmart’s platforms, customers will access purchased titles through Walmart/Kobo branded apps for desktop as well as Android and iOS. Kobo already has apps across these platforms, but it seems the two companies will make new apps for Walmart customers in the US to use. Customers with Kobo e-readers won’t have to worry about downloading new apps since all Kobo titles can be read on its own e-readers.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

PG says competition is great for consumers, so this is a win for readers.

PG suggests that indie authors are consumers of online ebook retailing services from Amazon, Kobo, Nook (at least for a while), etc., so he thinks competition for Amazon is a win for indie authors as well. Walmart will turn more readers onto ebooks sooner than would have been the case if it had continued its paperback and gossip mag ways.

In some large metropolitan areas, the Walmart customer has a bad image. You can even find websites with photos of gross people. However, in many small and medium-sized communities, Walmart is by far the best place to buy groceries and get your prescriptions refilled. The doctors and spouses in these communities, lawyers and spouses, business owners and spouses, etc., shop at Walmart because it’s better than driving an hour to find another retailer that offers the same range of goods.

So far, Amazon hasn’t tried any “screw your partner” strategies that are so attractive to many other large companies, but if Walmart is serious about competing with Amazon in the ebook market, that’s some insurance for authors that Amazon will continue its virtuous treatment of authors.

(As an aside, PG thinks as long as Bezos is running things, Amazon will continue these practices. He’s worried about what happens to Amazon when Bezos rides one of his rockets into retirement and someone else takes over. The successor to a highly-successful and dominant CEO has no guarantee of being able to ride the momentum of the prior star to continued success. See Tim Cook and Marissa Mayer, for example.)

Bought a PDF From Kobo? It’s Going Away After 1 November

3 August 2017

From The Digital Reader:

Have you visited your “My Books” page on the Kobo website lately? Me neither, but someone on Mobileread has noticed that Kobo has added a notice to that page telling users that PDFs are going away.

Here’s the notice:

Beginning November 1st, Kobo will no longer make your eBooks in PDF format available for download.

We’ll do our best to replace your PDF books with their equivalent EPUBs, but it is possible that some cannot be replaced.

We’ll let you know by email which books we can’t replace. You’ll need to download these books before November 1st to continue enjoying them.

I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell didn’t know about this change until I heard on Mobileread. Kobo did not send me an email with the news, and I didn’t want anyone to find out the hard way.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG suspects this is a decision that was inspired by PDF files consuming lots of disk space and not being accessed very frequently. Save disk space, reduce hosting fees.

PG also suspects that this is a bad long-term business decision by Kobo because it will cause Kobo customers to have less confidence that their ebooks are safe with the company.

Storing things in the cloud is a great idea so long as the cloud provides reliable storage. With most big cloud providers, this is a safe bet because major players (Amazon is the biggest) actively manage file backups, duplicates at multiple locations, etc. For 99% of home/home office computer users, copies of documents in the cloud are probably much safter than they are when stored on a local hard drive. (The other 1% should remember to take their OCD medications.)

However, if the entity storing its customers’ files in the cloud wants to save money, inherent cloud safety goes out the window. At least some customers are now wondering if Kobo is having financial problems and whether their ebooks are safe with Kobo.

Kobo becomes new technology partner at the tolino alliance

3 January 2017

From the Kobo Newsroom:

  • Deutsche Telekom sells the tolino ecosystem to Kobo
  • The tolino alliance welcomes leading global e-reading provider Kobo as its new technology partner
  • tolino remains eReading brand for the German-speaking region

Augsburg, Bonn, Hagen, Munich, Toronto, 2 January 2017 – The book retailers in the tolino alliance have a new technology partner. Rakuten Kobo Inc. from Canada, one of the world’s fastest-growing eReading service providers, will acquire the tolino technology platform from Deutsche Telekom at the end of January 2017 to become the new technology partner of the tolino alliance. The corresponding contracts have been signed. The founding book retail partners of the tolino alliance – Hugendubel, Thalia and Weltbild – are delighted to welcome Kobo as their new partner. It means that two of the leading providers in the global market for digital reading will be working closely together in future.

Deutsche Telekom looks back positively on the excellent collaboration with the book retailers. “We are proud to have contributed to tolino’s success as its technology partner. Together, we were able to make the tolino product an established name in the eReading market with its open ecosystem and tolino devices, which rank highly in many recognized tests. Having successfully developed a digital eReading ecosystem on an equal footing with strong US-based competitors, it is now the right moment for Deutsche Telekom to divest the platform business that we have built up over the last four years with substantial investment and effort. We are therefore delighted that the founding partners of tolino stand fully behind our decision to sell the tolino ecosystem to Kobo as the alliance’s new technology partner,” said Felix Wunderer, Vice President of ePublishing at Deutsche Telekom.

“Together with our partners from the German book trade, we intend to continue to enhance the tolino ecosystem for its many dedicated customers,” said Michael Tamblyn, CEO of Rakuten Kobo. “This acquisition allows us to bring Rakuten Kobo’s experience with collaborating with book retailers around the world to the tolino alliance. This is the coming together of two strong pure-play eBook platforms, and we look forward to bringing even more capability and competitiveness to the tolino offering. We look forward to working together as their technology partner to attract even more people from German-speaking countries to digital reading.”

Link to the rest at Kobo Newsroom

One example of PR speak that struck PG was:

Having successfully developed a digital eReading ecosystem on an equal footing with strong US-based competitors, it is now the right moment for Deutsche Telekom to divest the platform business that we have built up over the last four years with substantial investment and effort.

Even after making allowances for German-English translation, Deutsche Telekom appears to be saying:

  1. We spent a whole lot of money to build an ebook system as good as Amazon’s.
  2. So we’re selling it.
  3. Because this is the right time to dump this turkey onto Kobo.

Here’s a bit more from the press release:

“The handover of the ecosystem to Kobo is a sign of the advanced market development: Having found a perfect partner in Deutsche Telekom to establish the business, our next step with Kobo is to grow further and in particular to uphold and expand the international eReading standards,” according to Nina Hugendubel.

Of course, press releases are always crafted to put the best face on everything, but this seems strained. Should “upholding and expanding the international eReading standards” be a key goal for a profit-making enterprise?

Certainly, this is a shot at Amazon’s proprietary ebook format, but do readers care?

Is it a great burden to install a free Kindle app and a free Kobo app on a smartphone or tablet?

Plenty of consumers seem to be able to handle Pokémon GO and Candy Crush Saga at the same time.

Self Published Title is Kobo’s Most Read Crime Novel of All Time

28 July 2016

From Kobo Writing Life:

Rakuten Kobo, a leading innovator in the digital reading space, joins WHSmith as a sponsor of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival taking place this week. In celebration of all things crime, Kobo is releasing insights from an independent survey of the British public and its own user database, which reveals the insights about crime readers and predicts where crime writing may head in the future.

Move over Miss Marple and watch out Watson, because when it comes to the general public’s favourite character from crime novels, it seems one quirky man has definitely won over the hearts of the British public. He may be more than 100 years old, but when asked to choose their favourite character from classic crime novels from seven well-known and well-loved characters, Sherlock Holmes was voted the favourite by every age, gender and location, garnering almost a third of the entire vote!

. . . .

When it comes to crime readers’ favourite reads, Katia Lief’s One Cold Night comes out on top as the number one best-selling crime novel of all time on the entire of Kobo’s platform in the UK. One Cold Night also topped the bestsellers list for self-published titles. Mark Sennen’s Tell Tale: A DI Charlotte Savage Novel tops the best read, with 100% of those who opened the book getting right to the end! The top British crime author of all time, with the most sales across all their books is Lee Child, followed by James Patterson in second place.

Whilst older women may make up the largest demographic of crime readers on the Kobo platform, when asked what genre they would primarily choose to write in when penning their own novel, it seems that the younger generation are the ones who will drive the genre forward with 43% of 25-34 year olds wanting to become authors of their own crime novels. Interestingly, although those over 55 make up a large percentage of crime readers, they were the age group least inclined to add to the genre they love, with 72% saying they would not like to write their own novel.

. . . .

When asked what themes they’d like to see addressed in crime novels, artificial intelligence was the single most popular with (34%) closely followed by virtual reality (25%).

Link to the rest at Kobo Writing Life

For those TPV visitors who don’t use Kobo, here’s the Amazon author page for Ms. Lief.

How Kobo overcame great odds & showed maverick thinking to grow into a global leader

17 June 2016

From Kobo via Medium:

The Economist’s Canada Summit attracted a jam-packed lineup of business luminaries and big name politicians (including the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau) to discuss the future of the Canadian economy — and how disruption is a necessary exercise in the quest for global success.

As the leader of one of Canada’s startup success stories, Rakuten Kobo CEO Michael Tamblyn was invited to weigh in. He was billed as a “Big-bang disruptor”, a business leader with the potential to shape the future of Canadian business.

. . . .

They say when you’re starting a new business, you should look for the white space, be first to market, go where your competitors are not. Or there is another option. You can do the exact opposite. In 2009, starting here in Toronto with a handful of people, we picked a fight with the largest ecommerce company in the world, with the most successful hardware company ever, with the world’s largest book retail chain, and the most profitable search engine in history. Seven years later, 27 million users, 20 countries, millions of devices, tens of millions of ebooks and a $315M acquisition later, I get to tell you why that worked, why being Canadian mattered, and why sometimes the best revolutions don’t look like revolutions at all.

Kobo was born to disrupt. More than that, it was an exercise in intentional self-disruption. We were incubated inside Indigo, Canada’s largest book chain, in 2009 in answer to the strategic question: “What happens if many of the Canadians who are currently buying and reading print, start reading digitally?” Kindle had just launched in the US, Sony had ereaders in market, the iPhone was just released. Change was coming: The only question was: was someone was going to do it to us, or would we do it to ourselves.

. . . .

 Today, about 1 in 5 books sold in Canada is an ebook, in some categories it’s 1 in 3 or higher and Kobo is, when last I checked, the largest retailer of ebooks in Canada and one of the largest in the world and the second-largest manufacturer of eReading devices globally.

. . . .

 We could tell that building a great ereading service was going to be a big, capital-intensive project — and that not only was Canada not a big enough market to sustain it, almost no most national book market was big enough to sustain the level of investment that would be required to compete with Amazon or Apple or Google. Go big, because you can’t stay home. We were leaving the era where each country has a dominant book retailer or two and entering a new era where only a few global players would have the scale to compete. The good news was that it meant that the challenge that Indigo was facing — protecting their customers in the face of digital onslaught — was a challenge that every retailer who sold books anywhere in the world was going to face.

. . . .

The second thing we did right was to let go of the gravitational pull of the US. in our first couple of years, we could already see that the US, the richest market for ebooks in the world, was about to become a battleground. It was the home turf of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Barnes & Noble, and everyone wants to win at home. So while our competitors were all engaged in a very expensive fight for control of the US market, we quickly and quietly expanded into every other single country that looked like a candidate for digital growth, places where we could get in early, start building brand and market share. And we gained months, sometimes years of breathing room as competitors later struggled to internationalize systems that had been built to serve the US market alone. As those markets have grown, we have been able to grow with them. So now we find ourselves with the majority of our revenue coming from outside of Canada, with active retail presence in 20 countries, delivering ebooks to another 170.

. . . .

 Publishers and retailers in France are particularly cautious about working with foreign retailers, especially related to ebooks, but our membership in La Francaphonie and sensitivity to France’s tradition of cultural protection helped to get us a partnership with France’s largest retailer FNAC and a very significant French business. Our history as a Commonwealth country who had forged our own distinct English literature helped our partnerships in Australia and New Zealand. In Belgium and Switzerland, we understood multilingual politics, with all of its richness and complexity. In Mexico, we shared with both publishers and retailers the struggle of fighting to keep a distinct national culture while living right next to a neighbour who casts a very long media shadow.

Link to the rest at Medium

Kobo’s Mark Lefebvre on common digital publishing pitfalls

13 May 2016

From Chris Meadows via TeleRead:

At BookExpo America today, I took the chance to attend a panel given by Mark Lefebvre, Director of Kobo Writing Life, on common digital publishing pitfalls. Lefebvre addressed a number of common mistakes digital publishers make, and how Kobo could help avoid them.

The first such mistake had to do with cover design. Given that e-book cover art is typically viewed in much smaller thumbnail form, fine print isn’t going to work well. he showed examples of covers that had been optimized for mobile, with the author’s name in big letters at the top and the title slightly smaller below. This makes them clearly visible even when the image is thumbnailed.

. . . .

The second pitfall had to do with pricing. Lefebvre explained that many publishers price their e-books too high, in order to try to protect the windowing of their print prices. Hence, their e-books end up at the same price as or higher than the print version. This doesn’t play well with consumers, who tend to feel that much of the value of the book resides in the dead tree matter, though in actuality much more of it is in the content itself.

On the other hand, many independent publishers make the opposite mistake, and often undervalue their work—pricing it at 99 cents or otherwise too low. This tends to turn off many Kobo customers who’ve gotten burned by bargain-basement books that haven’t been very good—though pricing down to 99 cents on daily deals can be an exception.

One interesting point Lefebvre made regarding price is that, since Kobo is global, it sells in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and elsewhere, in addition to the US. And customers in some of those regions—such as Australia and New Zealand—are used to paying more for e-books, so publishers can afford to price their e-books higher there.

. . . .

Another interesting note to come out of the talk was that Kobo’s arranged a partnership with fellow Rakuten-owned company Overdrive, to allow self-published authors to opt their Kobo books into Overdrive’s library e-book service. It plans to turn that option on within a few months.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

‘End of the beginning for e-books’ says Tamblyn

4 March 2016

From The Bookseller:

Kobo c.e.o Michael Tamblyn says the industry is reaching the “end of the beginning for e-books”.

Speaking at the IPG Spring Conference yesterday (2nd March) Tamblyn highlighted the “steady state” of digital sales in the publishing industry, with e-book sales now “cruising nicely” between 20% and 30% of all book sales, he said. This has meant Kobo has been able to “take a bit of a breath” and consider its position as a digital retailer that “thinks about the reader and what they want,” Tamblyn added.

The new Kobo chief said the industry needed to let go of “preconceptions about what the reader is”, explaining that the demographic of people who use Kobo products are mainly “silver foxes”, with over 50% of Kobo’s readers over 55-year-old and 30% retired.

“People 55 and over are leading a digital charge for the first time”, he said. “That kind of understanding of what that customer looks like changes everything for us.”

Tamblyn said he was not worried about the demographic featuring mainly older people as “it seems more like there are times when people have more time in their life to read, and time when they don’t. It’s a conveyor belt that brings new recruits all the time. People make more time for reading as they get older.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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