Randall Wood

What’s up with Kobo?


                                                                                                                                                 Via: Flickr

I sell my books on Kobo.

I like Kobo.


Because I’m a greedy American capitalist zombie who is willing to reach around the world in order pry the hard-earned money from your wallet in exchange for a few pages of lies that spewed from my rotting brain onto the internet. I’ve you’ve been infected it’s your own fault for clicking the button.

Actually, that’s not exactly true. Maybe the capitalist part, but not the zombie thing. (as far as you know)

Then I see this in 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.”

This worries me. For several reasons;

Fighting agency pricing is just plain stupid, from both a PR and a business point of view. Agency pricing helps the publisher only and does so at the expense of the author and the reader. When your business is in a state of disruption, the last thing you want to do is fight it. Its far better to get ahead of it and adapt your business to meet the inevitable changes. I thought Kobo had better leadership in place, people that understood what was happening, now I’m wondering if this was the wrong assumption to make. As an author I need Kobo to do the smart thing. You as a reader also need them to do the smart thing.


Because Amazon needs a healthy competitor, and Kobo showed all the signs of being that.

Competition is good for business, plain and simple. While Amazon may be the king in America most authors realize that there is a huge number of readers outside the U.S. that might like their books, myself included. Kobo is big outside the U.S.. They allow me to reach readers in places like Australia, New Zeeland, South Africa, The U.K., Germany, Hong Kong, the Philippines, India and Malaysia. The numbers aren’t huge, although Australia has been showing me some love, when compared to Amazon, but still well worth it. With Barnes and Noble showing all the signs of a slow death, Kobo was the company everyone was hoping would step up and give Amazon the competition it needed.

Instead, they seem to be throwing in the towel.

Kobo needs to do a one-eighty and get in the fight. So far they’ve been mediocre in their approach. They need some PR people who understand the American reader, some tech people to improve their on-line store, and better programs to attract the mass amounts of authors they need to support a digital bookstore.

First things first; compete on price. They will never be able to give Amazon a run for their money unless they have a viable way to do so. This means developing software to enable automated price-matching. Currently Kobo price matches using staff to comb their competitors and manually update their store. This moves at the speed of smell and lacks any volume what-so-ever. Very little price matching does nothing but encourage readers to shop around. They also need to develop an app to allow scanning and price information via a mobile device. Once they have it, incorporate it into their e-readers.

Kobo is in the e-book business. That means they should be targeting the voracious reader. (See my previous post) To do so they need content (books) and lots of it. They have to offer incentives to the authors in order to attract them. Start by taking a lesson from Amazon; Select, Countdown, Lending Library, Kindle Matchbook, etc. All of these things are nothing but software. Hire somebody to do it, do it well, get it out there and then improve on it. Do it yesterday.

The upload system is not bad but it could be better. Stop using the Internet Explorer playbook and upload books faster. If some porn should slip through deal with it then, but an author waiting days for his/her book to appear, or a week for a price change to take place, makes them just want to pull the plug altogether. Speed things up, a lot.

Help the reader; the search function; Look at Amazon, they make it extremely easy to find books in their store. Once you find a book they give you bonus material; book suggestions, also-boughts, links to authors websites, bundle deals, etc. Come up with some similar programs and get them on the page. Just count covers! How many books appear on a Kobo page vs. an Amazon page? Present more buying options and the readers will see them. Seeing them leads to clicks. Clicks lead to sales.

Author and customer support; need more of this. Amazon returns questions and e-mails within hours. Kobo takes much longer, if at all. Fix this.

Expand Indiebound! It should be front and center on your website along with your e-readers. This is the one thing that Amazon doesn’t do and yet most readers have never heard of it. Give it the marketing push it deserves. Indie bookstores are on the rise. Indiebound should be in every one of them.

Stop taking Christmas off. What the hell is that anyway? The busiest time of year for authors and you close shop for a month? Name another retailer that does this. Fire whoever came up with that one.

These are just my suggestions but I know from talking to my fellow authors, and as a reader, that this is what we’d like to see out of Kobo. You’re a contender Kobo, start acting like it.

Say something nice? Oh….

I love the Kobo sales map. It’s my favorite thing on the author sales page. I have to scroll to see it (hint!) but it’s usually the first thing I look at. I mean what could be cooler for an author than to see a world map full of little dots depicting all the country’s where their books have sold? Makes me want to visit every one.

Combine that with a morning cup of coffee and you get a big smile from me.

2 thoughts on “What’s up with Kobo?”

  1. I had the same good feelings about Kobo up until the indie purge. They were saying all of the right things when KWL came out, they knew what parts of their site needed to improve, and their international reach was far ahead of Amazon at the time. The purchase by Rakuten (sp?) seemed like an opportunity too.

    But they haven’t followed through. Aside from the fact that all of my books got nuked, nothing about their site seems to have changed. The purge has been the only news of any sort since the beginning of 2013 or so, and that was a terrible, terrible mistake. In light of the Author Earnings numbers, it could be what kills them.

    Closing uploads during the Christmas season mystified me. I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re throwing all their staff at customer service at that time, which would be a good sign that they care about readers… but also a bad sign for their level of customer service in general. If they really are giving their people the holiday off, they don’t deserve to succeed in the same market as Amazon.

  2. Jim,

    I also read an article that said Rukatan (sp?), the parent company of Kobo, was a world leader in the buying and selling of illegal ivory.

    Clearly somebody needs to rethink their priorities. If they don’t fix things quick they’ll most likely get left behind, at least in the US market.

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