Kobo crashes the Kindle vs Nook party with $129 touch eReader (Kobo Wireless just $99)

Wow! Kobo just totally stole the spotlight from Amazon and B&N. It’s hard to imagine any way B&N (or for that matter, Amazon) can get the attention back.

  1. Firstly, there’s a new $129 Kobo eReader with a touchscreen and WiFi. That’s a touch screen eReader at a lower price point than the Kindle WiFi.
  2. Secondly, Kobo Wireless is down to $99. It’s a bit primitive but the Kobo Store is really good.

Those are two astounding bits of news – they weren’t supposed to be announced today, and they certainly weren’t supposed to be announced by Kobo. Engadget had the scoop on the incredible $129 touch screen Kobo eReader.

Last year, Kobo pushed the envelope on pricing and introduced the first $150 eReader. This year, it’s hit the $99 mark.

Kobo vs Kindle

The Kindle is in a tough spot here (Engadget has a Kindle vs Kobo video which amply demonstrates this) -

  1. The $139 Kindle WiFi is obviously a much better device than the $99 Kobo WiFi. However, $99 is $99. It also makes Kindle with Special Offers seem a lot less special.
  2. The $139 Kindle WiFi will also get compared to the $129 touchscreen Kobo WiFi. Touch does make a difference and $10 cheaper isn’t bad either. Perhaps the most compelling factor for readers looking for total cost of ownership will be Kobo’s propensity to hand out eBook coupons and discounts.
  3. The $189 Kindle 3 is in deep trouble. An eReader that is $60 cheaper with the same eInk Pearl screen and the added bonus of touch? Amazon has to cut the Kindle 3′s price to $150 or it will start seeing a non-trivial drop in sales.

I’m still a little in shock that Kobo managed to pull this off. Who knows – perhaps it goes bankrupt running this race to $99. On paper, Kobo certainly doesn’t seem capable of taking on Amazon and B&N – but somehow it is putting up a real fight.

Concerns over Borders don’t really apply. Firstly, Kobo is part owned by lots of international conglomerates and such - It will not go down with Borders. Secondly, Kobo has its own ebook store which is very solid. Thirdly, it uses ePub so you can just read books from other stores that sell ePub – lots of stores will be happy to get your business.

Kobo vs Nook 2 – Will B&N be able to compete?

B&N’s Nook 2 might have a touch screen of its own and that would negate one of the Kobo’s big pluses. B&N also gets advance notice – even if it is less than 24 hours until the grand unveiling of the Nook 2.

The big disappointment for Godfather Riggio and the B&Nians will be that they aren’t the ones putting the fear of God into the hearts of all other eReader makers. B&N is now effectively a bridesmaid at Kobo’s wedding - a bridesmaid who just realized that her own wedding in two weeks is probably not going to be as impressive.

Apart from the element of surprise, there are two very real concerns -

  1. The $129 Kobo will be a dangerous competitor. If Kindle doesn’t get ‘em, Kobo might.
  2. The $99 Kobo is even more trouble.

You have the rock - Amazon offering up free Internet and free 3G and a very impressive ebook store. You now also have a hard place - Kobo crossing the $99 threshold and also making its high-end model an absolute steal at $129 (Can we call a $129 eReader high-end?).

If B&N doesn’t announce something very impressive tomorrow, its position as the #2 eReader and #2 eBook Store will be under severe threat.

The Kobo Threat

  1. Same eInk Pearl screen as Kindle 3 – This negates one of Kindle’s big advantages, i.e. the only reasonably priced eReader with eInk Pearl.
  2. Faster processor makes things like PDF scrolling super fast and makes page turning faster. A definite advantage – the PDF scrolling was scary good.
  3. Touch makes it easier to use for people who aren’t comfortable pressing buttons. Infra-red system so readability is not affected at all.
  4. Smaller.
  5. Low $129 Price.
  6. It’s very simple to use – one Kobo owner said it’s dead simple and that’s an accurate description. It, thankfully, doesn’t do all the social network nonsense.
  7. It has expandable memory – a microSD card slot that can take up to 32GB.
  8. [Separate Model] Older model is now just $99. It’s not impressive at all – but for people stuck in *Reading is only worth $100* Land it seems magical and revolutionary.

Please Note: This post doesn’t cover Kindle’s advantages (free 3G, better ebook store, better ebook prices, WhisperNet features, etc.). That’s because this post is mostly meant to talk about how Kobo is turning Kindle vs Nook 2 into Kindle vs Nook vs Kobo.

And that’s the key thing – 2011 was set to be The Year of Kindle vs Nook, until Kobo decided to take matters into its own hands.

7 Responses

  1. I’m thinking you might be underestimating the power of brand name recognition here. For the vast majority of American readers Kobo is unknown.

    As example check out Best Buy and Walmart, they have had the Kobo at $99 online for quite a while now. At Best Buy it is number four, while the Nook eink is at number two. At Walmart they are just behind the Nook eink, but when you check the Walmart top 50 bestsellers for iPad & eReaders you get the Nook eink at eleven and Kobo at nineteen.

    To me that suggests that buyers will hesitate to buy what to them is an unknown brand despite the cheaper price.

    Also note that B&N has started selling brand new eink Nooks at eBay for $99: http://cgi.ebay.com/NOOK-by-Barnes-%26-Noble-Wi-Fi-eReader/120727275222?_trksid=p1468660.m2000036&clk_rvr_id=234560631347

  2. I love that it gets rid of the need for a keyboard but am curious how well the touch works.

    I am also jealous of the kobo interface…seems better designed than Kindle’s. Kindle is very plain compared to this and seems sterile.

  3. I can’t imagine living without my Whispernet. So until Amazon starts charging I will stick to my Kindle. I love that I can look up all kinds of things that help my grandchildren with schoolwork with my Kindle. We don’t have WiFi where I live so the 3G can’t be beat.

  4. “I’m still a little in shock that Kobo managed to pull this off. Who knows – perhaps it goes bankrupt running this race to $99. On paper, Kobo certainly doesn’t seem capable of taking on Amazon and B&N – but somehow it is putting up a real fight.”

    This low pricing would work be if the Kobo were repositioned as a Deal Delivery Device (DeDeDe) similar to the Kindeal. Conceivably, the Kobo people have lined up arrangements with (say) Walmarts, Groupon, etc. to deliver ads and deals to Kobo Kustomers.

    It would be a bit odd not to warn buyers about this, but not out of the question.

  5. I bought the Kobo wifi instead of Kindle and Nook. At the time Kindle didn’t offer epub support and the Nook color was too expensive. But now that the Nook has offered an affordable e-ink alternative I’ve changed my mind.

    I contacted Kobo about their ridiculously lackluster Newsstand choices. I really want the ability to read magazines and Newspapers on my e-reader. Barnes and Noble offers many more choices in magazines and Newspapers. There is just no contest. They never responded to my email. I had requested information about when and if they were going to increase their inventory of publications. The paltry difference in price of both new touch screen e-readers doesn’t make up for the lack of interest Kobo showed to a customer inquiry.

  6. I purchased my Kobo ereader in December 2011 after comparing to Nook & Kindle. I was happy with it until I attempted to download library books. All purchased ebooks work fine (I’d rate this a 4 out of 5). However, the library download does not work properly. I have tried several times, using several different computers & formats (EPUB & PDF), to no avail. I have spoken to & written to Kobo customer care and their only suggestion is that I “reset to factory settings” which would cause me to LOSE ALL of my purchased books — does that make sense to anyone ??? I emailed customer care to ask if there were any other options, so as not to lose my purchases and have not received a response — is that any way to treat a customer ??? (I’d give an overall rate of 2 out of 5 due to the poor response)

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