The Canadian-based company Kobo recently unveiled a new line of tablets. While the line boasts features for those with “reading at the center of their lives,” their prices and the American e-reading audience’s unfamiliarity with them is leaving some skeptical.
Kobo’s strategy of building and marketing their products for the passionate and “discerning” reader remains with their new line of tablets, with features like “Reading Mode,” which allows the reader to block interruptions from other apps on the tablet, and “Beyond the Book,” which allows users to discover new books based on their current reading.
Even with these features, skeptics are quick to draw comparisons to Barnes & Noble’s failed Nook tablet, which the company recently reported big losses from and announced it would be shifting its focus away from. If users weren’t drawn to switch from their iPads and other more popular tablets to the Nook, what will make them switch to the lesser-known Kobo tablets, especially when they don’t offer competitive prices?
Laura Hazzard Owen, of GigaOM, and Jeremy Greenfield, from Digital Book World, both point out that users already invested in the “ecosystem” of other tablets won’t want to give up the familiarity and convenience of their current tablets for a new, fairly unknown e-reader. Greenfield does point out that those who haven’t yet made the switch to e-readers may choose Kobo’s new tablets because of their features.
The American Booksellers Association (ABA) hopes this happens as well, and in recently switching from an e-book partnership with Google to one with Kobo instead, it’s helping to get the tablet into the hands of these new users, starting with independent bookstores. While these booksellers haven’t experienced any boost in sales from featuring Kobo’s devices in their stores, Judith Rosen of Publishers Weekly points out that making a profit has never been the main goal for these sellers with e-books. These independent bookstores have, however, been able to retain their customers by offering both print and the Kobo e-readers, a goal more important to them.
Kobo distances itself from other e-reader companies by focusing its efforts and attentions solely on e-readers, not spreading itself too thin by trying to dominate other publishing markets, such as print books. Kobo’s content chief Michael Tamblyn explains that “It’s a clarity of purpose that none of our competitors really have. We don’t have to worry about a legacy retail business, or selling ebooks in the context in many things…” as, for example, Barnes & Noble did with the Nook.
While Kobo hopes that targeting international markets will help them succeed where the Nook, and B&N, failed, many in the industry are left wondering if that will be sufficient, or whether it will even work with their current prices. Laura Hazzard Owen notes that “international customers in developed countries are still probably more likely to choose tables from the big names…[and] customers in developing countries probably can’t afford a $399 tablet.”
ABA’s Oren Teicher hopes that the U.S. market won’t let their unfamiliarity with Kobo, or their tablets’ higher prices, prevent users from experiencing what he calls “the best global solution for all booksellers to sell digital content.”
1. “Left to Their Own Devices,” by Porter Anderson (http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/09/ether-for-authors-is-the-dust-up-over-kobos-devices-fair/)
2. “Kobo Aims at “People With Reading at the Center of Their Lives,” by Dennis Abrams (http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/08/kobo-aims-at-people-with-reading-at-the-center-of-their-lives/)
3. “The ABA-Kobo Partnership, a Year Later,” by Judith Rosen (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/58938-the-aba-kobo-partnership-a-year-later.html)
4. “B&N Not Selling Retail Business; Outlines New Strategies,” by Calvin Reid (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/financial-reporting/article/58795-b-n-not-selling-retail-business-outlines-new-strategies.html)
5. “Reports of Barnes & Noble’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated,” by Edward Nawotka (http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/08/reports-of-barnes-nobles-death-are-greatly-exaggerated/#at_pco=tcb-1.0&at_ab=-&at_pos=3&at_tot=5)
6. Kobobooks.com (http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/)