Kobo Vs. Amazon: It’s Bibliocal!

Writing LifeFirst there was David versus Goliath. We all know how that ended up. But could this be DVs.GII? All I know is this time it’s indeed bibliocal as Kobo attempts to stand toe to toe with Kindle via their new publishing platform, Writing Life.

For those of you asking, “What’s a Kobo?” let’s start with a little history lesson. Once upon a time (2009) a bunch of Canucks formed a company with the idea of not only producing an e-reader (device) but partnering it with a retail eBook website and a multi-platform application with powerful social media integration. “Read Freely” became their motto, and epub (the standard, nonproprietary eBook¬†format) became their format.

As of January 2012 the majority of Kobo, Inc. was bought by a Japanese Company, and just maybe those laid-back Canadians have acquired some Samurai soul in the exchange (maybe they had it in them all along, but we’ll see).

In 2010 their Kobo reader was part of the reason the highly priced (at the time) Kindle slashed their price tag by over 50%. After the Kindle muscled the Kobo from it’s affordability niche, Kobo upgraded features like wi-fi and 3G. Now its Kobo Vox is priced at $179 in a standoff with the Kindle Fire at $199. But has the lowballing, rough and tumble Kobo really returned? Will the Japanese slap down the jelly donut and deliver the heat?

I’m a believer. Let me tell you the two main reasons why.

Focus Vs. Bulk

There is a little known theory that, all things equal, book readers actually prefer to buy their books from a book store, rather than the same place they buy their diapers and dog food.

Up to this point Amazon has capitalized in the eBook world by bringing its mighty weight to bear. They’ve driven down price on both device and eBook. They have used their Amazon Prime subscriptions (free shipping on gluten-free pretzels people!) to influence tremendous numbers of consumers toward the Kindle. And with their Kindle Direct Publishing Select program they’ve tempted herds of indie authors to bring their best exclusively to the Kindle publishing platform. Size matters.

But, up to this point none of the book specialists (ehem, Barnes and Noble, cough, cough) have been able to pull their heads out of the sand long enough to lure readers from Amazon’s shiny online warehouse of discounts and free shipping in order to turn them back toward odiferous, eye-hazing¬†book shelves.

Kobo is trying to change that. During the last quarter of 2011 they saw a 400% increase in eBook sales. They have long been preferred by a small group of reading enthusiasts. Kobo has had long standing relationships with GoodReads and Facebook. GoodReads reviews are loaded onto product pages in the Kobo store. The Kobo application allows readers to share their reading notes and progress with Facebook friends.

But can Kobo move outside of their small band of loyalists and bring readers back from the brink of Kindle-astrophy? If they succeed it will be due largely to…

Leveraging the Indie

For over a year Amazon has romanced the indie with great success. B&N has turned a frosty shoulder (after delivering a knee to the groin). Now Kobo has thrown down the challenge. Their Writing Life publishing platform invites any and all indies to come and publish their content. What’s so special about it?

  • Kobo is giving writers full control over the “free” price point. No time limits, no hoops.
  • Kobo is not asking for exclusivity.
  • Kobo pays 70% royalties down to $1.99 price point as compared to $2.99 on KDP. They pay 45% below that, (and in foreign markets) and you can even price your content at $0.01 (if you wanted to).
  • Kobo uses .epub (readable on basically every device and platform except the Kindle)

Writers have started to take notice. Yesterday I found a thread discussing Kobo on Kindle boards. If the armies of hard-working, moderately skilled indie authors out there start to gain wind of money making potential with Kobo then the rush will be on.

Due to recent algorithm changes at the Kindle store, the days of instant fame and fortune for the indie may have dried up. If Kobo can lure away enough of those blue-collar writers with a shot at the top 50 list the eBook David could boost sales tremendously and provide readers with the sort of selection and price tag to lure them away from Goliath for good.

The Experiment

The big if still remains. The Kindle store’s success with indies has depended greatly on its ability to gain them visibility internally through top 100 genre lists, tags and being able to show consuming trends instantly. As an indie writer if I could put together enough of a platform and create an adequately entertaining book that itched the right scratch with enough readers Amazon could make me a star (ala Fifty Shades of Grey).

In following posts I will begin to break down Kobo’s internal marketing features (and algorithms) to see what sort of opportunities might be lurking there for indie writers. How is the Kobo Short Reads list generated and refreshed? How about their top 50 Bestseller list? Great Reads under $4.99? How do their genre rankings work? and how often do they refresh? How do “free sales” impact ranking on these genre lists as well as the recent free reads list?

These are all questions I hope to find some answers to in the following weeks. I hope you come along for the ride. If any of you have or are gathering intel on Kobo please chime in and share.

2 thoughts on “Kobo Vs. Amazon: It’s Bibliocal!”

  1. Thanks for alerting us to this, David! I have been ignoring Kobo because of the policy of their previous owners, ChaptersIndigo, to force indie authors to use their iUniverse publishing process, which is ridiculously expensive.

    I may just port some of my titles (well, I only have four) to the Kobo Writing Life system to see how it goes.


Leave a Comment