Kobo Books: Kitten or Lion?

Kobo's Top 50 RankingsI’ve tracked www.Kobobooks.com for five weeks now, keeping my eye on the following things:

  • rankings
  • recommending reading lists
  • search and sort capabilities
  • customer service
  • the writing life platform
  • the app, the eReader, etc.

My intent has been to deduce whether Kobo seems to understand what it will take to become a serious player in the eBook retail universe currently dominated almost exclusively by Amazon and their Kindle store. My perspective is unabashedly that of an indie author.

I’ll do my best to breakdown each of the above bullet points in a series of four posts.¬†I’ll provide my observations/data and give my personal opinion whether Kobo is currently taking a kitten stance, or lion. Today we’ll deal with Kobo’s rankings.

The Results: Rankings

Kobo appears to have two sets of connected rankings. From any product page¬†consumers are given rankings for said product for each of the product’s listed genres (the Writing Life platform allows publishers to select up to three). These rankings are slow to change and only reflect the general rank rather than exact.

By clicking on the actual genre, Men’s Adventure in this case, you will be directed to the Men’s Adventure genre list sorted according to “Best Sellers” (you can also sort by price, rating and title). If a product is rated #83 on the product page this indicates that the product will be specifically ranked somewhere below #83 and above whatever the next selected breakpoint may be (possibly somewhere around #120). Once the product slips below #120 it would then be ranked #120 on the product page.

In general this causes products to reflect higher rankings on their product pages for longer periods of time. Also it should be noted that many (probably all) of Kobo’s genre lists are significantly less competitive than Amazon’s. This makes sense. There are less titles and these titles are selling less copies. For example, selling three copies of a product within the Men’s Adventure genre (a smaller one) will move that product from the bottom, #990, to around #60. AND keep the product there for a month.

This latter part seems to be what others have referred to via casual observation. Kobo’s bestseller lists (not to be confused with their recommending reading lists) are not as volatile as Amazon’s. If you can get on to one of Kobo’s bestseller lists, or climb near the top, you are much more likely to stay there longer than with other eBook retailers.

Kobo has a “list of latest free eBooks.” But the list is apparently devoid of any sort of rhyme or reason. I uploaded a free eBook via Writing Life that certainly did not go on the list. So it is not all of the latest free eBooks. In fact there are only thirty modern eBooks on the list, and around 24 of those have been the same for the last five weeks (10 of them Star Wars freebies). The rest of the list consists of classics that can be found for free almost anywhere online. My assumption is that again this list is curated, but based on what criteria?

The Writing Life platform has no means to track “free sales” so I have no idea how many downloads I’ve gotten. The same title has been free in the Kindle store for several months. After the first three months of increased downloads it has settle into an average of 5 downloads a day. If I were to make a guess, I would say I’m getting around 1 a week on the kobo store, and that from links outside the store. (Kobo has no viable way to search free eBooks unless you know exactly what you are looking for, but more on that in my search and sort post.)

My titles simply do not sell enough copies for me to have the statistical feedback needed to make hard and fast conclusions on how Kobo’s rankings work. But initial observations indicate Kobo puts more weight on monthly sales than hourly, daily or weekly. While a sale will effect a product’s climb up the rankings within minutes or hours, that product will not be subjected to the same sort of downward fall.

My suspicion is that Kobo’s rankings are actually quite simplistic, possibly based entirely on monthly sales. This could mean they are ripe for the sort of gaming indie authors slammed Amazon with during the winter of 2011/2012.

Kitten or Lion? Inconclusive (sorry)

The fact Kobo has product page rankings and genre lists is a positive indicator they are moving toward Lion. B&N has made no progress forever. Kobo has a star rating system. But the system is independent of leaving a review, because they snag their reviews from Goodreads. On the one hand I like the fact that my reviews from Goodreads automatically load onto my Kobo product pages (if you use the same ISBN on page sites). But this makes the star rankings less meaningful.

Overall, Kobo is in a catch 22. I think they could be poised for Lion status w/rankings, but due to the low statistical sales in comparison to Amazon, they appear to be stuck. If only a few sales can put a book near the top then rankings mean very little. So they curate several lists. But their curation makes little sense to me and feels purely commercial rather than being based on a more reader friendly or “neighborhood bookstore” method.

Kobo cannot and should not try to duplicate Kindle. I don’t want more 50 Shades of Grey and Hunger Games. I wish instead I could peruse an eBook retailer that would say, “Hey, I bet you haven’t seen these books. Check ’em out, and you’ll be glad you did.”

*If anyone who has access to higher sales numbers (around 30 to 50 units a month) could contribute to this it would help greatly.

8 thoughts on “Kobo Books: Kitten or Lion?”

  1. I thought it was just me who couldn’t figure out where my book was listed free on Kobo. Part of the plan to go free is to be found by readers who may not know you exist…Going free on Kobo defeats this purpose. I just hope in the months to come they fix this.


Leave a Comment