Tuesday, November 26, 2013 Dedicated Issue: Kobo


Download the Kobo app!

Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Learn how to join the Kobo Program

Indie Next List

Introducing the new Kobo Aura

Editors' Note


In this issue, with the support of the company, Shelf Awareness focuses on Kobo, the e-bookseller created by book lovers for book lovers that continues to expand in the U.S. and abroad, with a range of partnerships and new state-of-the-art products. The stories were written by John Mutter and Alex Mutter.

Kobo: Writing Life


Kobo Improving the E-Reading Experience

With the mission of allowing "anyone anywhere in the world to read whatever book they want on whatever device they like," as chief content officer Michael Tamblyn put it, Kobo now has more than 16 million users worldwide, offers nearly four million titles, and delivers to 190 countries--effectively every country on the globe. Including retail partnerships, Kobo has some 17,600 physical and online stores and works with 11,000 publishers. It's the biggest e-bookseller in Canada and France. And in the year since it and the American Booksellers Association began their partnership whereby indies have been selling Kobo e-readers, tablets and e-books in stores and online, Kobo is expanding and fine tuning the program that aims to allow indie booksellers to continue to serve customers who have begun to do much or all of their reading digitally.

Recently Kobo has:

  • Introduced state-of-the-art e-readers and color tablets that are designed first and foremost for readers;
  • Opened a digital magazine store;
  • Opened a children's store;
  • Added Beyond the Book, which allows users of all its devices and apps to dig deeper into the text with, for example, definitions of concepts and words;
  • Added a feature called Collections that offers a range of information on specific topics, such as traveling in Italy or being a vegetarian.
  • Held the first of what will be many events in indie bookstores uniting Kobo Writing Life self-publishers and bricks-and-mortar booksellers.
Kobo Chief Content Officer Michael Tamblyn

In some countries, Kobo has partnered with large retailers, such as its original parent, Indigo, in Canada (Kobo is now owned by giant Japanese e-tailer Rakuten), FNAC in France, W.H. Smith in the U.K. (and at one time Borders in the U.S.). In other countries, the ABA partnership has served as a template for working with booksellers associations, as is happening in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

In 16 countries, Kobo has created stores that, as Tamblyn put it, are "localized experiences, not just translations of North American e-bookstores. They are curated for the local reader in that country, with the books and subjects, titles and publishers that they want and would expect to find in their local stores." Tamblyn emphasized that the stores often look "quite different from country to country" with staff who "share our values and share our interests and focus on local readers there."

He added, "We have to mirror the passion of the customers who are excited about books and reading and feel at home at Kobo, regardless of what language they read in and what country they live in."

In the U.S., the Kobo-ABA partnership has been "a very successful program," Tamblyn said. "The ABA has been great at coordinating the training and education of indies, for whom this marks the first time they're selling devices. The reason they've survived until now is because they're really good at putting books into the hands of customers. They're learning how to do that with devices now."

He noted that there is "a wide range of performance" in sales, with certain indies even outselling some of Kobo's chain partners outside the U.S. "Some have embraced this, with a trained staff and dedicated space, and are doing an amazing job" and thus continue to maintain a connection with customers who are making a transition to digital.

Kobo continues to be "very happy with the quality of the ABA store customers," Tamblyn added. Reflecting the habits of a typical indie customer, only now in digital form rather than print, these customers tend to read "more frequently, build larger libraries faster and generally are more widely read than the average Kobo customer. They're more interested in literary fiction, in nonfiction like politics, history and biography. They also buy more frequently and buy more expensive books from a wider range of catalogue than the average U.S. consumer."

Share your love of reading with your kids

For Readers: New Kobo E-Readers, Tablets and Apps

At the core of Kobo's efforts, said Michael Tamblyn, is "our near obsessive focus on people with books at the center of their lives. Everything from our relationships with publishers to the kinds of devices we create comes from our desire to create the perfect reading experience for passionate readers." One example of this is the Kobo Aura HD, which uses e-ink even though "everyone says e-ink is dead." To the contrary, Kobo found that "our most passionate readers say they like e-ink and want the best possible device with a larger screen and a case improved so that it feels like a book," Tamblyn said. "It's the kind of device that anyone who reads fiction every day loves to read on."

Kobo's e-ink readers include the Kobo Touch, Kobo Mini, Kobo Glo, Kobo Aura and Kobo Aura HD. The new Aura, with a suggested retail price of $149.99, boasts an elegant design with edge-to-edge glass, more than two months of battery life, a high-resolution screen and screen refreshes that occur only when a new chapter starts. The Aura also has more ways to customize fonts, highlight text, organize bookshelves and present a user's Reading Life with a range of stats, awards and recommendations.

"Our e-ink devices are incredibly light, with amazing screens that have the best resolutions we could procure," Tamblyn said. "We've also taken the back-lit display further."

Kobo's tablets include the Kobo Arc, Kobo Arc 7 and the new Kobo Arc 7HD and Kobo Arc 10HD, the last two of which Tamblyn called "the best color tablets with the best possible screens for color reading experience," particularly for illustrated books, children's books and magazines.

The new tablets are designed for "readers first," as Tamblyn put it. When the devices are turned on, they display the book section first. (Users simply swipe the screen to access the device's Android operating system.) The Reading Life feature immediately displays the user's latest e-books, magazines and articles, reading stats, recommendations and other content of interest. Tablets also have a Reading Mode feature that allows the user to turn off notifications and other distractions from reading. This approach, Tamblyn continued, "has resonated really well with the part of the market we really care about: people who have books at the center of their lives" and who want "an immersive reading experience."

Tablets also provide access to Google Play, and have state-of-the-art HD screens and processors, adjustable lighting and battery life of more than nine days.

Kobo also has apps for Apple, BlackBerry, Android and Windows devices--for many readers the introduction to Kobo. "We have made sure that Kobo's rich reading experience is available on apps as well," Tamblyn said.

Kobo: A fresh take on tablets

Magazine and Kids' Bookstores; Beyond the Book; Collections

Earlier this month Kobo's new magazine store went live in the U.S. and Canada, a response to its many customers who said that the thing they most wanted to buy digitally after e-books was magazine--ahead of music and video. This led Kobo to purchase Aquafadas, which Michael Tamblyn described as "the best digital magazine reading experience in the world." With the Guided Reading feature, readers can find their "way through magazine column to column without stripping out the rich digital displays that attract people to magazines," Tamblyn said, adding that magazines look "amazing" on the company's new Arc 7 and Arc 10 tablets.

The company has created "the same collaborative relationships" with magazine publishers as it has with book publishers, working with, among many others, Hearst, Mondadori and Bonnier.

Kobo's kid's bookstore, which offers 100,000 titles, stemmed from the desire of many customers who are parents to encourage their children to read, especially now that books are cheaper and easier to access than ever. (Adults who buy new devices often pass on their old ones to their kids, fueling the boom in e-reading by children.) Because children "look for books differently than adults, Tamblyn said, focusing on series and characters, they needed their own store. Thus Kobo's children's bookstore emphasizes series, characters and bestseller lists for different age ranges. Parents can adjust the search settings, ensuring that, for example, "a 10-year-old is seeing only what 10-year-old kids should see," Tamblyn said.

Because parents are concerned about having an open credit card account for their children, Kobo created an "allowance" for children, allowing them to buy up to $40 of books in a month. "That gives kids a range of freedom in a store built just for them and allows parents a level of control in purchases," Tamblyn said.


Tamblyn noted that "e-books represent the first time that a book retailer is responsible not just for putting a book in a person's hand but also for the reading experience itself, including how the pages look and turn and other tools and services that wrap around a book." To help improve that experience Kobo recently introduced Beyond the Book across all its devices and apps. When readers turn on the feature, underscored words in the text link to concepts, definitions of unusual words, geographic areas and more, information that is pulled from Kobo, Wikipedia, a range of websites and other readers.

Another feature that aims to improve the online reading experience is Collections, analogous to the indie booksellers' tradition of selecting and recommending titles for customers. "We don't offer just a giant catalogue of books," Tamblyn said. "We have a curatorial approach as well. Authors, experts in their fields and Kobo editors offer information that is grouped by genres, authors and other themes and includes video. (One example: astronaut Chris Hadfield's collection of science and technology recommendations.) "While we have great search, personalization and algorithm features, we also want to make sure that a real person with real opinions is picking out books of interest for readers," Tamblyn said. "Instead of an endless array of bestseller lists, we serve up something to people that's unexpected."

Kobo Writing Life: A Store Hosts an E-Book Event

Kobo Writing Life, Kobo's self-publishing platform, is "about the empowerment of independent authors to make their books available to our 16 million customers around the world," Tamblyn said.

Unlike other self-publishing programs, Kobo is helping its self-published authors meet readers and other authors in bricks-and-mortar stores, uniting the online world and "real" world in a way we haven't seen before. Its first event, held earlier this month, is "a model we're going to replicate with ABA stores," Tamblyn said.

At that event, held November 2, 18 local authors, all part of Kobo Writing Life, gathered for a workshop and reception at Jan's Paperbacks, Beaverton, Ore. During the workshop, held at a meeting space near the store, Debbie Burke, owner of Jan's Paperbacks, author Maggie Jaimeson, and Christine Munroe, U.S. manager of Kobo Writing Life, all spoke about forging partnerships between local authors and indie bookstores and the best ways to use Kobo's self-publishing platform. Afterward, the authors descended on Jan's Paperbacks for a three-hour reception featuring wine, food and free books.

"That Saturday was the highest grossing day we've ever had," said Burke, who has owned the store since 2000 and was thrilled with the turnout of close to 100 readers. Giveaways included pre-printed cards with coupon codes that customers could redeem for Kobo e-books, baskets of signed print books and a Kobo device that was raffled off. "It kind of surprised me, because we were giving away so many books, but authors were buying each other's books, buying other books in the store," Burke said. "We did more business from 6-9 p.m. than in the eight hours we were open earlier that day."

The event was also a success for the authors: half of the attending authors saw their books hit Kobo's top 50 bestselling e-books list in the following days. And several of those authors, including Maggie Jaimeson, have agreed to "continue the party" through the end of the month by offering many of those same titles for free if downloaded through Kobo Books with the coupon code.

The workshop and reception came about through a conversation between Jaimeson, who is a friend of the store and a frequent collaborator, and Mark Lefebvre, Kobo's director of self-publishing and author relations, who met at a writing conference and talked about the possibilities for in-store events featuring self-published authors. Jaimeson recommended partnering with Jan's Paperbacks, and soon Lefebvre, Burke, Jaimeson, Jill Glass (Burke's daughter and marketer for Jan's Paperbacks) and Munroe were in conference calls to hash out the details. After the success of the Jan's Paperbacks event, Kobo is eager to host events with other indies across the country; in early December, Kobo Writing Life is sponsoring an event with author Barry Lyga at WORD in Brooklyn, N.Y.

For Burke, who sells mostly used books, moving into e-books has been a steep but rewarding learning experience. She sells devices through her store's e-commerce site, and frequently lends her personal Kobo device to customers who are curious about it. Burke's daughter came up with the idea of advertising e-books in store through cards printed with QR codes; so far, it's proven effective in getting customers' attention.

"It's looking toward the future," explained Burke, who has seen her e-book sales grow steadily since day one. "This is where it's going; you have to do print and digital." That's a need that Kobo is fulfilling.

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