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.