Kobo Books: Writing Life Platform

Kobo Writing Life DashboardI’ve tracked www.Kobobooks.com for several weeks now, keeping my eye on the following things:

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. Today’s post will discuss Kobo’s Writing Life Platform. (Follow the linked bullet points for the other posts.)

The Results: Writing Life

Props to Kobo. Their new Writing Life spanks Barnes and Nobles’ PubIt! with both hands. I would go so far as saying Kobo’s platform matches Amazon’s KDP. It is early on, and thus Writing Life is not as advanced. But the next iteration could combine many of the abilities of Amazon’s Author Central and KDP into a single source.

The Good

The thing I love most about Writing Life might be a major downer for some. But I love the fact I can simply upload an .epub file directly. Amazon does a pretty good job of converting my files into their proprietary (read, ridiculous) format. But I put work into making my .epubs look the way I want them too (read, awesome). So being able to upload that .epub directly into the Kobo store makes me sing songs of freedom.

The platform is pretty neat, clean and responsive. There are some how-to videos, but I didn’t need any of them. Everything worked as advertised with the first uploads, and took around fifteen minutes a title. I loved the flexibility of setting prices automatically or manually for the different countries Kobo sells in.

The $1.99 price point for getting 70% royalties is significant (compared to $2.99 at Amazon). For several of my 10,000 to 15,000 word short stories I feel $1.99 is a good price where $2.99 feels too expensive.

The dashboard and sales tracking for Writing Life is simplistic at this point, but visual and clear. I like it. As I’ve mentioned before, they seriously need an ability to track free sales. I’m hoping they add this in the next version. That leads us to…

The Bad

First a small thing. I’m disappointed the editor for book description doesn’t allow any HTML. Amazon’s KDP doesn’t either, but you can get around that by using Author Central to update book descriptions. Writing Life has an opportunity to outdo Amazon by supplying that ability from the initial upload and simplifying my life by cutting out the need to log on to another site and perform another task with every single title.

There is no direct way to get from Writing Life to the Kobo store product pages. Another simple thing, but annoying none the less. Lastly, the Dashboard is simply a glance at sales. None of the numbers are “actionable” or linked to any more detailed data. You can’t look back at the month before. You can’t break out price points that copies were sold at, etc. If Kobo is able to add complexity to this tracking then this will be another advantage they will have over Amazon which requires you to go to Author Central to get the rest of the info.

The Ugly

Most of the ugly goes back to my last post on customer service. Kobo assistance seems to be either overworked or undertrained at this point. Response time lags behind KDP by 2 to 4 days on most things. Sometimes that may not matter. But if a promotional is coming up and your price still hasn’t uploaded or your cover disappears, a couple of days could mean being ready for the traffic uptick or missing the entire window.

Lion or Lamb? Lion

Writing Life is the best thing about Kobo currently (from a publisher/indie writer view). I just can’t get over the thrill of uploading an .epub and having it look the way I want it to look, priced the way I want it priced and giving me 70% royalty with each purchase. Top all that off with the ability for readers to read my content on any device (except a Kindle) and I’m in love.

Plus, Kobo is offering 80% royalties instead of 70% now through November. These sorts of bold moves give me hope Kobo will make the moves necessary to court and win indie authors in significant numbers (thus benefitting readers and writers both).

Overall the platform is more visually appealing than KDP and just as easy to use. If Kobo is able to improve their stat tracking abilities and simplify the process for users who don’t have ready to go .epubs (every writer should be using Scrivener by Literature and Latte at this point, thus this shouldn’t be a concern) then Writing Life will rock the pants off of KDP in the future. Now if Kobo could get their store anywhere near up to speed with Amazon’s Kindle store we’d have a real competition on our hands (but more about that in my next post).

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