Stumbling onto Kobo, reviewing its threat to Kindle Store

The Kindle and the Kindle Store co-exist only for each other. They are like two childhood friends who shun the company of others. No other eReader, and no other eBook Store, is let in – although a few tablets and phones are allowed to partake of the exquisite joy found in conversing with the Kindle Store.

In the world of eReaders, outside of the little Kindle clique, lie a variety of stores and eReaders that mingle freely. Amongst that milieu one store has begun to attract quite a lot of attention.

Stumbling on to the Kobo Store

Yesterday, the Kobo Store had a one-time use 50% off coupon – a coupon you could use on one out of a few hundred books. Today, it has a 20% off coupon valid on 40 or so books.

On top of these offers is this enticing claim -

Between 13th and 26th December, spend over $35 and get a 45% off coupon. Spend over $25, and you get a 35% off coupon.

Let’s get this straight – First, there’s 50% off, then there’s a coupon for another 35% off?

That does sound very compelling.

There are also a few other things working in Kobo Store’s favor.

Wonder of wonders – The store isn’t restricted to the US. Nor does it make things difficult – In fact, the store is reasonably easy to search through. Plus, unlike the Nook Store, its books work on any eReader. Finally, it uses the mildly awkward Adobe Digital Editions to authenticate books for devices, and not custom-made, super-awkward software like Sony Reader does.

It’s also a civilized store – not asking eReader owners to do anything untoward like enter special passwords.

3 Magic Words

Bought a book. Now reading it on the Nook Color.

There was one magic moment. The book bought from the Kobo Store had this in the ‘Book Info’ section -

Permissions set by the publisher

Allow viewing: on any device.

It’s such a strange contrast. My Kindle books are permanently welded to the Kindle, and to Kindle Reading Apps. My Nook Books are similarly intertwined with B&N’s offerings. Yet, here is a Kobo book that doesn’t discriminate.

3 magical words - on any device.

All it takes is one purchase

After that one purchase everything changes -

  1. Kobo has my credit card information now.
  2. Reading a Kobo Store book makes me a Kobo customer.
  3. The realization hits home - There is an option other than hacking Nook Color to run Kindle for Android. 
  4. The 3 magic words are now stuck in my subconscious.
  5. It becomes apparent that the Kobo Store is pretty decent. Prices for some books are higher than Kindle Store, and the range is less – But it’s decent.

That 50% sale paid off with this eReader owner – Kobo becomes the default store powering my Nook Color.

The Nook Store won’t even let me buy books. My US credit card has a Canadian address, and that’s not good enough for B&N. Understandable – given all the profit they’ve been making recently.

Kindle Store won’t let me read books on Nook. Hacking an eReader just to run Kindle for Android is a bit extreme – especially when Nook Color works really well as is.

Kobo Store is a valid threat to Kindle Store

Kobo eReader lacks punch. It also lacks personality, features, infrastructure, and any hint of excitement. It’s the type of device Steve Jobs has nightmares about. He probably screams – Not a Big Blue Button. For the love of God. Off with his head! - in his sleep.

Yet, Kobo eReader has the support of a Kobo Store that is quite impressive.

Here are a few of the Kobo Store’s advantages -

  1. The books work on any eReader that supports ePub.
  2. You can take your library with you if you switch devices.
  3. It works internationally. Not sure which countries other than US and Canada.
  4. It’s very aggressive with discounts and coupons.
  5. It’s managed to incorporate a lot of free books from Smashwords.
  6. It’s a decent store – easy to navigate, clear and clean-cut, beginning to get user reviews.
  7. There are good Kobo reading apps for other platforms.

Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t make any big, huge mistakes. There are some horrendously priced books – However, that has more to do with the kind and benevolent Agency Model.

Amazon has no option but to sell ePub editions to eReader owners whose eReaders support ePub

Here’s a suggestion from K H Acton -

What if Amazon SOLD ePub books along with its proprietary format, but limited the Kindle to the proprietary format. Then it could keep Kindle customers using the best ebook store around AND open the best bookstore to the ePub readers.

It’s an absolutely brilliant suggestion.

Look at the threat Kobo Store poses, and the suggestion is not only brilliant, but also timely. It would be a proactive move that would prevent Kobo Store from eating up the entire non-Kindle market.

  1. With Sony’s terrible Reader Store, and B&N’s ‘ePub that works only on Nook’ fiasco, the Kobo is the clear #1 choice.
  2. If Amazon lets that status quo remain, soon Kobo will be making a ton of money from eBook sales.
  3. That would put Kobo in position to mount an all-out attack on Kindle’s lead – in both eReaders and eBooks.
  4. If Amazon sells books in ePub format, to eReader owners whose eReaders support ePub, it becomes the best eBook Store for them instantly. That prevents Kobo from being their #1 option.
  5. It would curtail the Kobo threat - Before it became a huge one.

Amazon can ill-afford to let a single rival store become the eBook source for all non-Kindle devices. Kobo is threatening to do that with its excellent, ‘works on any device’, ebook store.

Will Amazon make a proactive move to fend off Kobo?

Kobo Store is likely to grow into a big and dangerous threat to the Kindle Store. You could argue that Kobo isn’t yet a real threat – that Amazon should wait 2 years to see if Kobo or another ePub store manages to unite the ePub hordes.

However, there’s no point in launching ePub support for non-Kindle eReader owners after another store has established itself. The real value would be in making the move now.

Amazon has shown a tendency to let its rival eReaders and rival stores make moves first – PDF support, books in the browser, touch. It waits for the move, measures/estimates the impact, and then counters. With Kobo, it’s a different situation – Kobo is wrapping up customers and becoming stronger. Amazon needs to be proactive – It needs to stop the rise of Kobo before Kobo gets to the stage where it turns into a monster.

What might Kobo do to become a bigger threat to Amazon?

Kobo can actually do a lot -

  1. Match Kindle Store on ebook prices across the board.
  2. Release an eReader that looks like it’s at least trying.
  3. Target Nook and Sony Reader owners more aggressively.
  4. Keep expanding its international reach.
  5. Find a way to sell to Kindle owners.
  6. Release a Kobo Tablet.
  7. Target Nook Color owners very aggressively.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity for Kobo is in targeting all the new Nook, Nook Color, and Sony Reader owners. Kobo’s already good enough to become the eBook store of choice for non-Kindle eReaders – It just has to get the word out.

The threats to Kindle and Kindle Store keep multiplying

Kobo is the latest addition to a long list of significant threats to the Kindle.

Nook Color is currently the single biggest threat to the Kindle – ever. Nothing else is even close – Nook Color makes the iPad seem like an overweight sumo wrestler trying kickboxing.

Kobo Store seems a distant threat – However, it’s almost as dangerous as Nook Color. Kobo Store can sell books to every single non-Kindle eReader. It might end up being the one eBook store that rules the entire ePub world.

The other threats we keep hearing about. Yet, they aren’t the ones Amazon should worry about first. Nook Color and Kobo eBook Store will end up being the biggest challenges for the Kindle.

9 Responses

  1. That’s very interesting. I’m in Germany, and I seem to remember that when I tried to get a free book from Kobo a while back, it did not allow me access. After your posting, I tried again, and the (non public domain) book that I selected downloaded onto Adobe Digital Editions with no complaints, so they do indeed seem to be expanding their international service.

  2. Can Kobo books be read with “apps” on the iPhone, etc.?

    Does Amazon have the right (from publishers) to sell books in non-Kindle formats? (I assume so, but you never know.)

    What would be the effect on Kindle sales if Amazon were to sell ePub books? Other readers would then have the advantage of being able to access free library books and Google books, without their current disadvantage of not being able to access the Amazon store. (And they’ll have Pearl eInk too, before long, presumably, so that’s another disadvantage they won’t have.) So it might pay Amazon to wait a year. Or more.

    • Yes, Kobo books can be read on iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Palm Pre.

      • The Kobo iPad app was recently updated with a bunch of reading statistics under the heading Reading Life. Like hours read, percentage of your library read, hours per book, etc… I like it but don’t have enough books for the app to make it worthwhile….

        Amazon could easily add these to the Kindle- at least to be viewable on the web- I would think.

  3. I just checked my Kindle library, I have 976 Kindle eBooks.

    If Amazon offered ePub, I would check out the Sony readers and Alex and see if I like either enough to buy. If I don’t like those, I will wait for Nook eInk update and Kobo update. I will eventually find an ePub eReader I like enough to buy.

    I would either stop buying eBooks until I had an ePub eBook reader or I would start buying my Amazon books in ePub.

    As soon as I found an ePub eReader I like enough to buy I would start asking Amazon to change the files of the Kindle books I have already bought to ePub. If they don’t do it, I will keep asking. And keep asking.

    Even if they don’t exchange my old books, every new book purchase would be ePub. I would never buy the Kindle format again, and I would not upgrade to Kindle 4, Kindle 5, Kindle 6, etc unless it could read ePub.

    I would never buy a Kindle mobi format book again. I would get the benefits of Amazon eBook store and the flexibility to take my books anywhere in the future besides the Kindle. And I would get library books. And I could shop around at the Kobo store and Google store, and any other ePub store I feel like looking at.

    • Joe, what you’ve said makes sense, and I suspect others would see the logic of it too. That’s why Amazon would be wise to wait awhile (or longer).

      And it’s not just Amazon that would suffer. The point Switch has made before about the downside (to all) of openness applies here, I think. Amazon would have less incentive to make its store the best, if it wasn’t gaining lock-in thereby. So there’d be more friction involved in the book-buying process, and maybe Amazon wouldn’t be offering these high-royalty deals to authors, or the real-time marketing information it’s recently started making available, or it’s POD publishing service, etc., etc.

      It’s possible OTOH that Amazon actually WOULD benefit from making a move now, as Switch said above. I dunno. But there are a lot of things to consider before making such a leap. I’d be scared if I were Amazon. It’s doing OK as-is—why talk a chance of upending the applecart?

      • Actually I am very happy being with Amazon.

        It has the eReader I like best, great customer service, the best selection of books and usually the best price.

      • Joe just said:
        “Actually I am very happy being with Amazon. It has the eReader I like best, great customer service, the best selection of books and usually the best price.”

        Nevertheless, he also said:

        “If Amazon offered ePub, I would check out the Sony readers and Alex and see if I like either enough to buy. If I don’t like those, I will wait for Nook eInk update and Kobo update. I will eventually find an ePub eReader I like enough to buy. … and I would not upgrade to Kindle 4, Kindle 5, Kindle 6, etc unless it could read ePub.”
        AND:
        “And I would get library books. And I could shop around at the Kobo store and Google store, and any other ePub store I feel like looking at.”

        You can see why Amazon would hesitate to sell ePub format books. Your current satisfaction with them would butter them no parsnips in the future, were they to make such a change.

  4. Kobo currently gets more of my ebook dollars than anyone not named Amazon. We also own their reader (original edition, not the WiFi). It’s slow and basic, but our daughter loves it, and it works with our library.

    The company is creative and aggressive in their marketing, and is very responsive. They actively support their product online (twitter, MobileRead, etc.) and come across as a very friendly bunch.

    Their new iPad app is rather intriguing as well. The social aspects built into it remind me of Goodreads.

    All in all, a company to watch.

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