Who is Kobo? is often the reaction I get from clients when I suggest they distribute their eBooks through Kobo. I then explain that:
- Kobo is one of the largest eBook reading device manufactures and eBook sellers in Canada, a serious rival to Amazon in that country
- Kobo is owned by the “Amazon of Japan”, Rakuten. In the U.S. Rakuten also owns Buy.com.
- Kobo competes with Apple and Amazon in dozens of international markets (they recently opened a store in Brazil before Amazon)
- Kobo has a partnership with the American Booksellers Association to offer eBook support services to independent booksellers
Obviously they do not have the name recognition of the other major players but the game is still early and in non-U.S. markets they are a contender (in contrast Barnes and Noble is in two markets—the U.S.and the U.K.as of this writing).
Feedback from publishers
Considering sales are admittedly small in the U.S.(low single digits according to their CEO) I thought I’d ask a few publishers to share their experience with Kobo. Specific feedback is below but here are the consensus views:
- Every publisher I speak to is firmly committed to making their eBooks available in as many stores as possible. No one likes the idea of letting Amazon dominate.
- Kobo is universally praised for customer support. I’ve had the same experience: staff is friendly, responsive and eager to help.
- Sales are small relative to the major players, especially Amazon, but they are growing. Publishers are pleased.
Here are some specific comments from some of the publishers I spoke with via email:
Harrison Demchick with Bancroft Press shared that they “work with Kobo directly, compiling our own images, ebooks, and metadata and sending all directly to Kobo. It’s been a positive experience all around—Kobo is quick and responsive, and if anything goes wrong, they’re on top of it.” Bancroft currently distributes more than 60 titles via Kobo.
Jay Nadeau at Biting Duck Press spoke highly of the ease of working with Kobo—from ingestion to customer service. Unlike Amazon where you rarely speak with someone Jay says they deal directly with live people, and it’s often the same few individuals. They have about 150 titles on two imprints. Even though they currently have only about a dozen available on Kobo the channel accounts for 5% of sales which is comparable or better than other channels.
Biting Duck has offices in both the U.S and Canada and feels that “Kobo is probably the best way to sell eBooks in Canada right now and for the foreseeable future.”
James Lewis reports that Smashwords can be a viable distributor for smaller publishers looking for international presence without the cost and added work of managing numerous direct channels. Lewis’ Pantheon Collective distributes their 12 eBooks via Smashwords and shared that Kobo is fourth in sales out of nine stores.
How to get started
As readers of my blog know I’m a fan of direct distribution whenever possible. You maximize your revenue and maintain the most control. Publishers have three options to distribute direct via Kobo.
1. Self-publishers can use the Kobo Writing Life portal.
3. AuthorImprints offers managed distribution to Kobo. Accounts are setup in the name of the publisher and we assist with metadata development, data entry and title management. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.