Kobo’s 10th Anniversary

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Sunday (December 15), Rakuten Kobo [reached] its 10th anniversary.

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In any week, [Kobo CEO Michael] Tamblyn says, Kobo will deliver ebooks to some 150 countries. “Over the course of a year,” he says, “we’ll hit all the countries the United Nations recognizes and a few others.”

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The operation also has localized merchandizing and/or other partnerships in some 25 countries. The catalogue available through the retailer comes in at between 5 and 6 million titles.

At the end of November, another new market was opened: Vincent Chang in the Singapore Straits Times welcomed the introduction of Kobo’s e-readers to the island nation

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And that factor in itself—leading with a line of e-reading devices—is a clue to how Kobo has become the most purposefully internationalized player in the digital reading industry.

“It’s been really interesting too look back over the development of the company, you know,” Tamblyn says, “to look at how we achieved the position that we have and what were some of the decisions we’ve made that resulted in that. Out of all the startups that we were on the starting line within 2009, why are we still standing? So many others have gone away. And we need to take that point of retrospective as we get ready for the next 10 years.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that this is a business that rewards scale,” he says. “It definitely helps to be one of the big players in the space. But it also rewards diversification.

“We see a third of our sales coming from Asia, a third from the Americas, north and south, and a third from Europe.

“We do see ups and downs in individual territories,” Tamblyn says. “We see individual markets peak and then plateau. We see other ones start slowly and then accelerate. And spreading ourselves out—realizing that this is a long game as opposed to something to be won in a couple of years—has given us a lot of resilience and diversification. And that’s allowed us to keep going when a lot of others didn’t find themselves able to get that critical mass.”

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The January 2018 announcement of Kobo’s partnership with Walmart in the United States drew widespread attention in the world industry.

Already well recognized for its emphasis on international expansion and partnerships, Tamblyn had taken a turn into a market he’d effectively conceded years earlier to Amazon’s dominance. What made the Walmart arrangement clever, of course, was that it integrated the Kobo offer into Walmart’s growing online retail effort, meaning that Kobo had landed, effectively, as the big-box retailer’s in-house vendor in the field.

Walmart had the same reason Kobo did to want to build its online presence in the American market: Amazon.

“Walmart, when you look across its entire portfolio of e-commerce,” Tamblyn says in his interview, “is really pushing hard on being that strong competitor in the US. They’ve been a great partner to work with, and there’s still a lot more we can do in that channel. So really this past year has just been getting us started.”

But asked if the success of the Walmart partnership doesn’t turn on the fact that Kobo can ride the energy of that huge company’s online expansion, Tamblyn has another approach.

“There were a couple of pieces” to the arrangement, he says.

“One is that we want to be where readers are, where books are getting purchased, where people are showing up and making shopping decisions about reading—so we can introduce ebooks and audiobooks to them. And we can do that in a place where they’re already showing up for that reading experience every day.

“So that has us looking at each individual market in terms of where is there a great retailer who has access to that customer in a privileged way. At the same time, who sees themselves as being in a competitive battle with those big ecosystem players—Amazon, Google, Apple—and wants to hold on to that customer and retain that reading relationship with them over time?”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Amazon’s Kindle Oasis has a new competitor: The waterproof Kobo Forma

From Ars Technica:

Kobo’s newest e-reader is going after fans of Amazon’s Kindle Oasis. The new Kobo Forma is the company’s most expensive and comprehensive e-reader yet, coming in at $279 and featuring a waterproof design and an E-ink Mobius display.

Seemingly cut from the same cloth as the Kindle Oasis, the Kobo Forma has an 8-inch display with a large bezel on one edge for gripping. This pseudo-chin has buttons in its center that can be used to flip through pages when the device is either landscape or portrait mode. It’s uncommon to see e-readers used in landscape mode, but it’s a cool feature to have for those who may prefer it (possibly after getting used to reading in landscape mode using smartphones or tablets).

The Mobius technology built into the HD E-ink display uses a flexible plastic layer to make the device more durable while keeping it light. Weighing about 195 grams (0.43 pounds), the Kobo Forma can withstand drops from up to two meters, and it also meets IPX8 standards, which means it can withstand being under up to two meters of water for up to 60 minutes. Kobo also claims that the Mobius tech lets the Forma withstand “more bends, twists, full handbags, and overloaded backpacks” than other e-readers.

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The new e-reader debuts not long after Kobo and Walmart announced their partnership to bring e-books and audiobooks to Walmart customers, and in turn, to more people in the US. Kobo devices and services are popular in Canada, the UK, and other countries, but only recently did the company decide to come back to the US to try to compete with Amazon in the digital reading market.

Through the partnership with Walmart, Kobo e-readers are available in Walmart stores and online, and customers can access Kobo’s library of more than six million e-books and audiobooks through both the Walmart and Kobo mobile apps. The two companies also have a $9.99-per-month audiobook subscription service that, like Amazon’s more expensive Audible, includes one complementary audiobook each month.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica and thanks to Judith for the tip.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.”

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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

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.